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FABLES, RIDDLES, AND ENIGMAS.
PASSING now from the more common figures of speech, we come to those peculiar tropical methods of conveying ideas and
More promiimpressing truths, which hold a special prominence in Dent scriptural the Holy Scriptures. These are known as fables, rid- tropes. dles, enigmas, allegories, parables, proverbs, types, and symbols. In order to appreciate and properly interpret these special forms of thought, a clear understanding of the more common rhetorical figures treated in the previous chapters is altogether necessary. For the parable will be found to correspond with the simile, the allegory with the metaphor, and other analogies will be traceable in other figures. A scientific analysis and treatment of these more prominent tropes of Scripture will require us to distinguish and discriminate between some things which in popular speech are frequently confounded. Even in the Scripture itself the proverb, the parable, and the allegory are not formally distinguished. In the Old Testament the word so is applied alike to the proverbs of Solomon (Prov. i, 1; x, 1; xxv, 1), the oracles of Balaam (Num. xxiii, 7; xxiv, 8), the addresses of Job (Job xxvii, 1; xxix, 1), the taunting speech against the King of Babylon (in Isa. xiv, 4, ff.), and other prophecies (Micah ii, 4; Hab. ii, 6). In the New Testament the word Trapaßoan, parable, is applied not only to what are admitted on all hands to be parables proper, but also to proverb (Luke iv, 23), and symbol (Heb. ix, 9), and type (Heb. xi, 19). John does not use the word Trapaßorn at all, but calls the allegory of the good shepherd in chap. x, 6, a Trapoquia, which word Peter uses in the sense of a proverb or byword (2 Peter ii, 22). The word allegory occurs but once (Gal. iv, 24), and then in verbal form (ážanyopoúueva) to denote the allegorizing process by which certain Old Testament facts might be made to typify Gospel truths.
Lowest of these special figures, in dignity and aim, is the fable. It consists essentially in this, that individuals of the Characteristics brute creation, and of animate and inanimate nature, are of the fable. introduced into the imagery as if possessed with reason and speech, and are represented as acting and talking contrary to the laws of their being. There is a conspicuous element of unreality about the whole machinery of fables, and yet the moral intended to be set forth is usually so manifest that no difficulty is felt in understanding it. The oldest fable of which we have any trace is that of Jotham,
recorded in Judg. ix, 7-20. The trees are represented Jotham's fable..
as going forth to choose and anoint a king. They invite the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine to come and reign over them, but these all decline, and urge that their own natural purpose and products require all their care. Then the trees invite the bramble, which does not refuse, but, in biting irony, insists that all the trees shall come and take refuge under its shadow! Let the olive-tree, and the fig-tree, and the vine come under the protecting shade of the briar! But if not, it is significantly added, “Let fire go forth from the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” The miserable, worthless bramble, utterly unfit to shade even the smallest shrub, might, nevertheless, well serve to kindle a fire that would quickly devour the noblest of trees. So Jotham, in giving an immediate application of his fable, predicts that the weak and worthless Abimelech, whom the men of Shechem had been so fast to make king over them, would prove an accursed torch to burn their noblest leaders. All this imagery of trees walking and talking is at once seen to be purely fanciful. It has no foundation in fact, and yet it presents a vivid and impressive picture of the political follies of mankind in accepting the leadership of such worthless characters as Abimelech. Another fable, quite similar to that of Jotham, is found in
2 Kings xiv, 9, where Jehoash, the King of Israel, an
swers the warlike challenge of Amaziah, King of Judah, by the following short and pungent apologue: “The thornbush which is in Lebanon sent to the cedar which is in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son for a wife; and there passed over a beast of the field which was in Lebanon, and trampled down the thornbush.” This fable embodies a most contemptuous response to Amaziah, intimating that his pride of heart and self-conceit were moving him to attempt things far beyond his proper sphere. The beast trampling down the thornbush intimates that a passing incident, which could have no effect on a cedar of Lebanon, might easily destroy the briar. Jehoash does not proudly boast that he himself will come forth, and by his military forces crush Amaziah; but suggests that a passing judgment, an incidental circumstance, would be sufficient for that purpose, and it were therefore better for the presumptuous King of Judah to remain at home in his proper place.
The apologues of Jotham and Jehoash are the only proper fables that appear in the Bible. In the interpretation of these we should guard against pressing the imagery too far. gery not to be
pressed too far We are not to suppose that every word and allusion in the interprehas some special meaning. In the apologue of Jehoash tation. we are not to say that the thornbush was Amaziah, and the cedar Jehoash, and the wild beast the warriors of the latter; and yet, by the contrast between the cedar and the thornbush, the king of Israel would, doubtless, impress his contempt for Amaziah upon the latter's mind, and thus seek to humiliate his pride. Neither are we to suppose that Amaziah had asked Jehoash to give his daughter in marriage to his son; nor that “Israel might properly be regarded as Jehoash's daughter, and Judah as Amaziah's son (Thenius), as if Amaziah had formally demanded, as Josephus states, (Ant. ix, 9, 2), a union of the two kingdoms. Nor in the fable of Jotham are we, like some of the ancient interpreters, to understand by the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, the three great judges that had preceded Abimelech, viz., Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, nor seek for hidden meanings and thrusts in such words as anoint, reign over us, and shadow. We should always keep in mind that it is one distinguishing feature of fables that they are not exact parallels of those things to which they are designed to be applied. They are based on imaginary actions of irrational creatures, or inanimate things, and can therefore never be true to actual life.
We should also note how completely the spirit and aim of the fable accords with irony, sarcasm, and ridicule. Hence its special adaptation to expose the follies and vices of men. “It is essentially of the earth,” says Trench, “and never lifts itself above the earth. It never has a higher aim than to inculcate maxims of prudential morality, industry, caution, foresight; and these it will sometimes recommend even at the expense of the higher self-forgetting virtues. The fable just reaches that pitch of morality which the world will understand and approve." But this able and excellent writer goes, as we think, too far when he says that the fable has no proper place in the Scripture, “and, in the nature of things, could have none, for the purpose of Scripture excludes it.” The fables noticed above are a part of the Scripture which is received as Godinspired (2 Tim. iii, 16); and though it is not God that speaks through them, but men occupying an earthly standpoint, that fact does not make good the assertion that such fables have no true place in Scripture. For the teachings of Scripture move in the
*Notes on the Parables, p. 10.
realm of earthly life and human thought as well as in a higher and holier element, and sarcasm and caustic rebukes find a place on the sacred page. The record of Adam's naming the beasts and fowls that were brought to him in Eden (Gen. ii, 19) suggests that their qualities and habits impressed his mind with significant analogies. Many of the most useful proverbs are abbreviated fables (Prov. vi, 6; xxx, 15, 25-28). Though the fable moves in the earthly element of prudential morality, even that element may be pervaded and taken possession of by the divine wisdom.'
The riddle differs from the fable in being designed to puzzle and Characteristics perplex the hearer. It is purposely obscure in order to of the riddle. test the sharpness and penetration of those who attempt to solve it. The Hebrew word for riddle (1779) is from a root which means to twist, or tie a knot, and is used of any dark and intricate saying, which requires peculiar skill and insight to unravel. The queen of Sheba made a journey to Solomon's court to test him with riddles (1 Kings x, 1). It is declared, at the beginning of the Book of the Proverbs, that it is the part of true wisdom “to understand a proverb and an enigma (nyesin); words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. i, 6). The psalmist says, “I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will open on a harp my riddle” (Psa. xlix, 4). “I will open my mouth in a proverb; I will pour forth riddles of old” (lxxviii, 2). Riddles, therefore, dark sayings, enigmas, which conceal thought, and, at the same time, incite the inquiring mind to search for their hidden meanings, have a place in the Scripture.
Samson's celebrated riddle is in the form of a Hebrew couplet (Judges xiv, 14):
Out of the eater came forth food,
And out of strength came forth sweetness. The clue to this riddle is furnished in the incidents related in Samson's rid- verses 8 and 9.
Out of the carcass of a devouring beast came the food of which both Samson and his parents had eaten; and out of that which had been the embodiment of strength, came forth the sweet honey, which the bees bad deposited therein. But Samson's companions, and even his parents, were not acquainted with these facts. Their ignorance, however,
*The profound significance of Jotham's fable is declared by Cassel to be inexhaustible. “Its truth is of perpetual recurrence. More than once was Israel in the position of the Shechemites; then, especially, when he whose kingdom is not of this world, refused to be a king. Then, too, Herod and Pilate became friends. The thornbush seemed to be king when it encircled the head of the Crucified. But Israel experienced what is here denounced: a fire went forth and consumed city and people, temple and fortress.” Cassel's Commentary on Judges (Lange's Biblework), in loco.
is no ground for saying that therefore Samson's riddle was no proper riddle at all. “The ingenuity of the riddle," says Cassel, “ consists precisely in this, that the ambiguity both of its language and contents can be turned in every direction, and thus conceals the
It is like a knot whose right end cannot be found. ... Samson's problem distinguishes itself only by its peculiar ingenuity. It is short and simple, and its words are used in their natural signification. It is so clear as to be obscure. It is not properly liable to the objection that it refers to an historical act which no one could know. The act was one which was common in that country. Its turning point, with reference to the riddle was, not that it was an incident of Samson's personal history, but that its occurrence in general was not impossible.” 1
A notable example of riddle in the New Testament is that of the mystic number of the beast propounded in Rev. xiii, 18. The number of “Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding the beast. reckon the number of the beast, for it is a man's number; and his number is six hundred sixty-six.” Another very ancient reading, but probably the error of a copyist, makes the number six hundred and fourteen. This riddle has perplexed critics and interpreters through all the ages since the Apocalypse was written.' The number of a man would most naturally mean the numerical value of the letters which compose some man's name, and the two names which have found most favour in the solution of this problem are the Greek Aateivos, and the Hebrew hp 173. Either of these names makes up the required number, and one or the other will be adopted according to one's interpretation of the symbolical beast in question.
Some of the sayings of the wise in the Book of Proverbs seem to have been een made purposely obscure. Who shall decide
Dark proverbs. the real meaning of Prov. xxvi, 10? The English version renders: “The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.” But the margin gives us an alternative reading: “A great man grieveth all, and he hireth the fool, he hireth also transgressors.” Others translate: “As the archer that woundeth every one, so is he that hireth the fool, and he that hireth the passer-by.” Others: “An arrow that woundeth every one is he who hireth a fool and he who hireth vagrants.” Others: “A master forms all things himself, but he that hires a fool is as he that hires vagrants.” And the Hebrew words of the
Commentary on Judges, in loco. ? For the various conjectures see the leading Commentaries on the passage, especially Stuart, Elliott, and Düsterdieck.