Archive for Bible

Moving over the waters

Six Days of Creation (detail) Czech Bible of 1506 Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University

Six Days of Creation (detail)
Czech Bible of 1506
Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.


The other day I happened upon a wonderful exhibit from Bridwell Library’s Special Collections. The First Four Centuries of Printed Bible Illustration presents some outstanding images in glorious, generous detail. (Thank you Bridwell, for making the images large enough to explore!) It’s quite a treat.

This woodcut especially caught my eye–I can’t remember ever having seen a creation image like it. I love the texture of the waters. I love the way God seems strong and active. It’s an image of creative activity where you can imagine why God would rest after six days.

The entire page is a wonder. God’s hands are so expressive; every panel is dynamic, yet balanced.

I find myself feeling grateful. Thankful that such a work has survived the years. Thankful that we live in an age where I discover such treasures on my computer. And thankful that someone was willing to photograph it and share.

Czech Bible, 1506 Bridwell Library, SMU

Czech Bible, 1506
Bridwell Library, SMU
(Click to enlarge image)

Daily Bread

Gathering Manna German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 17 February 1483 Bridwell Library, SMU

Gathering Manna
German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1483
Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University


Two things I ask of thee;
    deny them not to me before I die:
 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
 lest I be full, and deny thee,
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor, and steal,
    and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30: 7-9


Super Bowl Sunday: Bible Cover edition


New Found Life Bible Cover










We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4


There are only certain places in this country where you can go to find a really good selection of Bible covers. I happened to be in one of those places a few years back and took these pictures.

Bible covers can be functional. The Bible I’ve used since fourth grade wouldn’t hold together without the plain black canvas cover that surrounds it. Other Bible covers make a statement–about faith or fashion. They may declare, “I am a Christian,” or they may demonstrate that scripture is so much of your identity that it’s been incorporated into your ensemble. They can disguise your Bible so no one will realize what you’re carrying. And then there are the covers that are designed to be conversation starters–because witnessing is easier and less intrusive if it begins after someone asks, “What is that?”

Of all the bits of Christian material culture out there for purchase, Bible covers are one you can usually count on to elicit feelings. The idea of carrying your Bible around with you so much that it needs a cover is foreign to many Christians. Even bringing your personal Bible to church (so you might take notes in it or follow along with the reading!) seems a little too fervent for some. And for others, the idea of having fun with the Good Book is profoundly uncomfortable. The danger of being tacky or disrespectful is just too great.


Bible covers purse style


Bible covers assorted


Whatever your feelings on this matter, you should know that the history of protective and decorative Bible covers goes back more than a thousand years. Medieval Bibles were handmade, not printed, so people went to great lengths to house these precious works in suitable coverings. I doubt that any of our current bookstore offerings will survive to 3016, but they might last 100 years, and I wonder what history will imagine they meant.

Book Cover with Byzantine Icon of the Crucifixion Metropolitan Museum of Art Accession Number: 17.190.134

Book Cover with Byzantine Icon of the Crucifixion
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 17.190.134



A little lectio

Deliver me, O Lord, by your hand 
from those whose portion in life is this world;

Whose bellies you fill with your treasure, 
who are well supplied with children
and leave their wealth to their little ones.

But at my vindication I shall see your face; 
when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding
your likeness.

Psalm 17: 14-16


These three verses spoke to me today. “Deliver me…from those whose portion in life is this world.”  It’s a striking description of the dynasties of wealth and power that control the earth and fill the news. It sums up their reach through time and the limits of that reach. And I love the way that vindication–satisfaction–comes on the other side of death. Are the wicked destroyed? Did they ever suffer? It doesn’t matter. The powerful have had their time, and we wake to behold the face of God.


A New Testament verse also struck me, and it felt like a sort of defiant acceptance of self–a sentiment with which I am familiar.  Perhaps, if you’ve ever felt out of step with the rest of humanity, you’ll know what I mean.


…by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

I Corinthians 15: 10a

The land of Wandering, east of Eden

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084 Louvre OA 4052 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084
Louvre OA 4052
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge image


Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:1-16

Have you ever heard a sermon preached on this scripture? I’m not sure I have, but I’d like to. The more I look at this passage the more complicated and interesting it becomes. I know I’m not alone in this fascination. John Steinbeck and many rabbis have spent time thinking about it. Bruce Springsteen points to it. There’s even a reference in the game Batman: Arkham City. Perhaps we should take a look. There’s more to Cain and Abel than “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Much of what interests me about this story has to do with language and double meanings. Before we dig in, you need to know that a few chapters back in Genesis, Adam (whose name carries linguistic associations with the words “man” and “red” is created from the red earth (adamah). Man and earth are interdependent. Adam and Eve care for the garden and live on its produce, but after the Fall, the earth is cursed and Adam’s relationship with it becomes a struggle. The consequences of sin are not borne by Adam and Eve alone. God says to Adam:

…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
In the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

from Genesis 3


When we come to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, Cain, the tiller of the soil, becomes angry when God rejects his offering in favor of his younger brother’s firstlings. Cain lures Abel out to a field, where he kills his brother. The ground opens its mouth and receives Abel’s blood from Cain’s hand, but the earth cannot conceal the crime. God asks, “Where’s Abel?” and receives Cain’s insolent answer. Abel’s blood cries out, and the earth also speaks in a manner, with a curse. Having opened its mouth to take in blood, the ground will no longer produce food:

you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. 

Cain’s sin and his curse are built on his father’s. Cain’s relationship with the earth becomes so broken that he must wander, a fugitive from Eden. He is separated from the land of his birth, and he must leave God’s presence. Yet, even in exile, Cain is under God’s protection. God’s reach, his mercy, extends beyond Eden, into the land of Wandering (Nod).

There’s much more to tease out of this story. So much we could talk about. I wonder why some translations say sin is “crouching” at the door (which sounds like it is ready to spring) while the KJV and RSV say sin “lieth at the door” or is “couching” (which sounds less like an attack and more like sin has taken up residence). And what about after Cain leaves Eden? The Bible says he gets married and has a son, and then he and his wife build the first city, Enoch. How are we to think about cities, if they came into being because sinful Cain can no longer farm the earth? And why then do we long for Zion, the heavenly city, and not for a return to the Garden? What happens when we return to the dust from which we were taken?


Zion alt

The Promise Box

Our Daily Bread Promise Box

Our Daily Bread
Promise Box


Return thanks. Say your prayers. Read your Bible everyday.

One of our great tasks as faithful people is to be always mindful of God and his promises. We teach them diligently to our children. We talk of them when we sit in our houses and walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise. We try to establish good spiritual habits, memorize prayers and scripture, learn a few hymns. We want faith to be as natural as breathing.

The Promise Box is one of the tools Christians have developed to aid spiritual growth. The idea is simple: a box filled with cards or slips of paper printed with Bible verses. Each day you draw a different card to read, mark, and inwardly digest. The purpose is serious, but the practice is enjoyable. It’s a bit like opening a fortune cookie or a birthday present: you never know exactly what you’ll get. As you reach for the card you wonder, “What message does God have for me today?”

The Promise Box that’s most familiar to me is a little plastic loaf of bread filled with different colored cards. The box usually has the words “Our Daily Bread” on it, though I have seen pictures of a “Bread of Life” box. The “bread” in the title is a New Testament reference, intended to remind us of Jesus and the Lord’s Prayer.

I remember seeing these loaves in people’s kitchens growing up. We didn’t have one, but to a child, a plastic bread loaf is a wonder to be remembered. The other day, for some unknown reason, I went hunting online, found one for sale (which I bought), and I also found an interesting variation that I’d never seen before. (I bought that one too.) They have become food for thought.


Honey in the Rock

Honey in the Rock
Gospel Text Line
Seymour, Indiana


My second Promise Box is a plastic rock. The phrase “Honey in the Rock” stamped in gold on the side comes from Psalm 81 and Deuteronomy 32–but I believe the sense of it comes from Psalm 119:

How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

and from Ezekiel 3:

“Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Honey in the Rock has colored cards similar to the Daily Bread, but like the name it’s a bit less austere. The cards are printed with scripture verses on one side and what seem to be hymn lyrics on the other. I don’t recognize many of the hymn lyrics, and their poetry seems old-fashioned, so I suspect they were familiar to a previous generation. (Of course, it could be a reprint of old cards in a new box, the sort of thing that happens when one company buys out another.) My Honey in the Rock was made by the Gospel Text Line Company of Seymour, Indiana (about which I know almost nothing). I’m guessing it dates from the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Now I had a loaf and a rock. My interest was piqued. I realized there was more to the Promise Box than bread alone, so I did what I always do: I went searching online, and I was able to trace the Promise Box as far back as the Victorian era. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more examples, but let me share what I’ve found so far.

In the 1940s, Zondervan put out a Daily Manna Promise Box. Once again the product name varies, but emphasizes our need for nourishment and God’s promise to supply our needs. Calling to mind Deutronomy 8:1-3 the Zondervan box also links our need to the word of God: “man shall not live by bread alone.” The Daily Manna Promise Box contains the familiar colored cards (which must have been designed to appeal to consumers), here printed with scripture and “choice poems.” The addition of poetry, like the hymns, creates more obviously devotional experience than the simple scripture verse of the Daily Bread. There’s a verse to memorize and a sort of poetic commentary for meditation. Directions for use are included.

Daily manna promise box 1940s Zondervan

Daily Manna Promise Box
Zondervan, 1940s

Daily manna scripture cards


Daily manna directions for use

“Directions for use: This box contains 200 Precious Promises with accompanying appropriate bits of verse. These cards may be read at every meal, during social gatherings, in study groups, etc. Use these cards to memorize the rich portions of God’s Word.”


Having made my way to the pre-plastic age, I kept up my online search. The oldest promise box I could find was created by Pickering and Inglis, a Glasgow-based firm, publishing largely for the non conformist church in Scotland with many Brethren publications. These lovely examples come from the early 1900s. They’re called “Golden Grain: Precious Promises Gleaned from the Word of God” and the name reminded me of Jean-François Millet’s Gleaners (1857).




The Golden Grain box was filled with tiny scrolls and came with an instruction card and a delicate pair of tweezers to remove the scrolls.

“Golden Grain Promise Box- A careful selection of Precious Promises from the Word of God for the comfort, cheer and guidance of His Own. Pick out one of the rolls, read and commit to memory the promise, then replace in box. Can be used at morning and evening worship, at any meal table or family gathering, in small Bible Class or Social Company, in Hospital or Infirmary, in private, or in many other ways.”

Golden Grain Precious Promises Pickering Inglis


Golden Grain Precious Promises sample


Golden Grain Promise Box with tongs


Golden Grain Promise box yellow red


So that’s I’ve learned about the history of the Promise Box, and now you know it too. But why, you may ask, did I lead you down this rabbit hole? Because I’m fascinated by the idea that a bit of Christian whimsy–almost Christian kitsch–has a serious history. An I think it’s worth asking, if a plastic loaf of bread filled with Bible verses is meaningful to someone, what does it mean?

Each of these objects is clearly a Promise Boxes, but they are not the same. “Be nourished by God’s Word” they all say, but some Promise Boxes allow for personal reflection stimulated by human words as well as scripture. Some are a bit silly. All are meant to be enjoyed, and all of them bring religious instruction and devotion into the home, and frequently to the kitchen and to the table where the family gathers.

Like an Advent calendar, the Promise Box is a motivator to mindfulness. Happily, it’s not a box of pills–“take one a day for good spiritual health”–it’s a box of promises, designed to comfort, cheer, and guide us. It has a game-like quality. And it’s a great idea that’s lasted over a hundred years.


Post script: I was musing over lunch about the multicolored cards, and thinking about how only recently had the palette changed to slightly more neon shades. Why had the colors remained so constant over many years? What did they mean? Then, with a characteristic flash of insight, my husband pointed out that the cards were a rainbow and so a reminder to us and to God of his great promise:


I am going to make a solemn promise to you and to everyone who will live after you. This includes the birds and the animals that came out of the boat. I promise every living creature that the earth and those living on it will never again be destroyed by a flood.

The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you and to every living creature on earth. It will remind you that I will keep this promise forever. When I send clouds over the earth, and a rainbow appears in the sky, I will remember my promise to you and to all other living creatures. Never again will I let floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the sky, I will always remember the promise that I have made to every living creature. The rainbow will be the sign of that solemn promise.

 Genesis 9

Putting on armor

LOTR Theoden Who am I


A small observation. Today I was reading about the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6:

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

This put me in mind of a quite different passage from Isaiah 59, but one that also uses the metaphor of armor. I can actually imagine these garments more vividly than those in Ephesians–garments of vengeance, wrapped in fury as a mantle. I can feel the wind of the Lord, see it driving the rushing stream. I feel the anger that comes before the battle.


Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands afar off;
for truth has fallen in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intervene;
then his own arm brought him victory,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation upon his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render requital.
So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.

 “And he will come to Zion as Redeemer,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord.

It’s an interesting contrast and I don’t know what to do with it. Both passages refer to the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. With the armor of God in Ephesians you will stand against spiritual forces of evil and quench the flaming darts of the evil one. But instead of vengeance and fury there is faith, truth and the gospel of peace. What’s the relation between these two passages? How are we to understand this warrior imagery? There are other relevant passages, I know, but these were the two that set me to pondering today.

Little David and the Chunky Flap Book

Little David and the Giant


Little David and the Giant is one of a series of “Bible Story Chunky Flap Books” put out by Random House in the 1990s. This one was written by Mary Josephs (is that a pseudonym?) and illustrated by David Wenzel.

Even when my kids were tiny I was incredibly picky about the Bible storybooks I bought. I had rules: no bad theology, no ugly pictures, don’t stray too far from the scriptural account. That excluded a lot of board books. Three Mary Josephs’ works passed my test and stood up to repeated reading: Little David and the Giant,

Daniel and the Lions (illustrated by Pamela Johnson)

Daniel and the Lions

Lions crop

and Jonah and the Whale (illustrated by Benrei Huang)

Jonah and the Whale

(I think that whale knows a secret.)

At about $3 for a board book that fits in your hand, you might not have expected a quality experience, but I really liked these Chunky Flap Books because their use of the flaps was fun and creative.

David Loaded Sling

Open the first flap to let the stone fly…

David slew the giant


And down Goliath goes!

Even the language is an occasion for happy discussion. How many books for 2-year olds include the word “slew?”

Just goes to show that sometimes there is treasure buried in the field, so keep digging!

Now, to add to the spirit of discovery and general merriment, here’s a jazzy song about Goliath with lyrics by J. Paul Williams and music by Joseph A. Martin. Everyone seems to enjoy singing this one. Hope you enjoy it too.

And why should kids have all the fun?

Goliath was a mighty man, he stood over ten feet tall.
Goliath was a mighty man, he had a lot of gall.
He laughed at David and David’s God
He made fun of old King Saul.
Goliath was a mighty man, but you should have seen him Fall.
Fee, fi, fo, fum,
Fee, fi fo, fum

Goliath was a mighty man, he was a warrior bold
Fee, fi, fo, fum,
Goliath was a mighty man,
fee, fi, fo
His temper uncontrolled
He laughed at David and David’s God
He made fun of old King Saul
Goliath was a mighty man
But you should have seen him,
Yes, you should have seen him,
O, you should have seen him fall.

Now you’ve made me mad. You are just a lad.
Birds and beasts will have a feast.. Prepare to meet your God!

David stood up to Goliath, he didn’t even have a sword.
All he had was five round rocks and the power of the Lord.
He put a rock in his old sling-shot and when that stone had flown,
It hit Goliath between the eyes and he..let..out.. a..groan!

Goliath was a mighty man, he stood over ten feet tall.
Goliath was a mighty man, until he lost it all.
He laughed at David and David’s God
He made fun of old King Saul
He wasn’t really great at all
You should have seen him
Yes, you should have seen him,
You should have seen him…… fall!


Samuel Helping in the Temple

Samuel Helping in the Temple
painting by Harold Minton
The Bible Story Book, Bethann Van Ness, Broadman Press, 1963.

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. (1 Samuel 3:1)

Bible Story Book cover Bethann Van Ness

Children are so often shown being helpful in Christian publications. The message is clear that everyone can and should make a contribution, and that God can use anyone for his purposes–even a child. We’ll look at more of these images in the weeks ahead.

Treachery, violence, Epiphany


Godfather Michael Corleone


…your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness.

No one enters suit justly,
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs,
they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
and from one which is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
and deeds of violence are in their hands….

Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands afar off;
for truth has fallen in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (from Isaiah 59)


Sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it. (Genesis 4: 7)


Holiday time is movie time at my house, and this season, along with other more light-hearted fare, we watched a number of organized crime stories. You wouldn’t think that The Departed and The Godfather would prepare a person for Epiphany lectio divina, but I found that they did. The machinations, the treachery, the lying, the violence, and the vulnerability of anyone who tries to walk away from evil–it starts with Cain and Abel and never stops. That beautiful star heralding the Christ Child shines in a darkness of Herod’s vicious, ruthless ambition. Mary marvels, Rachel weeps. It’s never simple. It’s never easy. The ugliness and pain are so intense, betrayal so frequent. “Who can you trust?” “No one.” 

Which is why I cling to the Christmas miracle–that subversive intervention in human history: God incarnate as a child (!) come to show us a way out of this mess.


We look for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like the blind,
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
We all growl like bears,
    we moan and moan like doves;
we look for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us. (Isaiah 59)


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.