Divine Riddles and God’s Purpose
WHEN one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing. What is it? A riddle.
In today’s highly pragmatic society, people tend to view riddling as child’s play, but in ancient times the riddle “was a test of wisdom,” notes The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.—Compare Proverbs 1:5, 6.
Rather than stating his will or purpose plainly, at times Jehovah has intentionally obscured his prophetic sayings, using analogies, mystifying “dark sayings,” or riddles that perplex. (Psalm 78:2, King James Version; Numbers 12:8, The Emphasized Bible) In fact, while the Hebrew word for riddle is used only 17 times in the Bible, the Scriptures are literally full of riddles and proverbs.
Biblical Riddles Abound
King Solomon was reportedly able to solve even the most perplexing questions, or riddles, brought to him. (1 Kings 10:1, footnote) This was certainly a result of God-given wisdom. If there is any truth in reports of ancient historians that Solomon once lost a riddling contest with King Hiram of Tyre, it likely happened after he lost Jehovah’s spirit as a result of his apostasy. Judge Samson similarly showed a fondness for riddling. On one occasion, empowered by holy spirit, a riddle provided him with the opportunity to strike fear into the hearts of God’s enemies.—Judges 14:12-19.
Many Biblical riddles, though, are directly involved with Jehovah’s purposes. Consider, for example, Genesis 3:15. This prophecy, which lays the basis for the theme of the Bible, is in itself something of an enigma, a “sacred secret.” (Romans 16:25, 26) Besides being given supernatural visions and revelations, the apostle Paul also saw certain aspects of God’s purpose in “hazy outline,” or literally, “obscure expression.” (1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4) And what about the endless speculation that has surrounded the mysterious number of the wild beast—“six hundred and sixty-six”—introduced suddenly and without explanation at Revelation 13:18? Who is able to solve these divine riddles, and what purpose do they serve?
Unlocking Sacred Secrets
For many of us, sight is the most precious of our five senses. But without light, human vision would be almost useless. We would be virtually blind. So, too, the human mind. It has an amazing ability to match patterns, apply logic, and thus solve puzzles. Yet, something more is needed to unlock sacred secrets. While others may offer solutions to the riddles posed in the Bible, only their Author, Jehovah, the God of light, can reveal their intended meaning.—1 John 1:5.
Unfortunately, men are often too proud and independent to wait on Jehovah for answers. Intrigued by the mystery, there are those who, seeking intellectual stimulation but not necessarily truth, sought solutions outside of God’s Word. For example, Jewish mysticism with its Cabala pondered the magical significance of numbers and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Gnostics of the second century, on the other hand, made use of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in an attempt to extricate secret meanings from them.
All such searching, however, led them further into pagan rites or superstitions and away from divine truth. ‘Why, if the world is full of evil,’ the Gnostics reasoned, ‘then its Creator, Yahweh, cannot be a good God.’ Is this the best conclusion they could offer? How shallow human reasoning is! No wonder the apostle Paul, fighting apostate ideas that were later developed by Gnostic sects, strongly warned in his letters: “Do not go beyond the things that are written”!—1 Corinthians 4:6.
Turning the Light on “Dark Sayings”
Yet, why would a God of light speak “dark sayings” at all? The very nature of a riddle challenges one’s imagination and deductive powers. So, sprinkled throughout the Scriptures like tasty garnishes in a gourmet meal, they were sometimes used simply to arouse the interest of the audience or to make the message conveyed more vivid. In these instances, explanations are usually given immediately afterward.—Ezekiel 17:1-18; Matthew 18:23-35.
Jehovah grants wisdom generously but never indiscriminately. (James 1:5-8) Consider the book of Proverbs, an inspired collection of many puzzling sayings that some might view as riddles. Understanding them takes time and meditation. But how many people are willing to make the effort? The wisdom they contain is accessible only to those who are willing to dig for it.—Proverbs 2:1-5.
Jesus likewise used illustrations to expose his listeners’ heart attitude. Crowds thronged around him. They enjoyed his stories. They loved his miracles. Yet, how many were willing to change their life-style and follow him? What a contrast to Jesus’ disciples, who repeatedly sought to understand Jesus’ teachings and willingly disowned themselves to become his followers!—Matthew 13:10-23, 34, 35; 16:24; John 16:25, 29.
Looking to the Light
“Interest in riddles,” observes one source, “seems to coincide with seasons of intellectual awakening.” Today we are highly privileged to be living in a time when spiritual “light itself has flashed up” for God’s people. (Psalm 97:11; Daniel 12:4, 9) Can we patiently wait on Jehovah to reveal his purposes according to his timetable? More important, do we act promptly to change our lives when we become aware of how to conform more fully to God’s revealed will? (Psalm 1:1-3; James 1:22-25) If we do, Jehovah will bless our efforts, so that, just as eyeglasses correct blurred vision, holy spirit will bring the beautiful mosaic of the divine purpose clearly into focus in our mind’s eye, sharpening our spiritual vision.—1 Corinthians 2:7, 9, 10.
Indeed, Scriptural riddles magnify Jehovah as the “Revealer of secrets.” (Daniel 2:28, 29) Moreover, he is also a Searcher of hearts. (1 Chronicles 28:9) It should not surprise us to learn that the unveiling of the light of divine truth has always been progressive. (Proverbs 4:18; Romans 16:25, 26) Rather than seek knowledge of the deep things of God through mysticism or shallow human wisdom, which can only lead to futility, let us confidently look to Jehovah God to turn the light of truth on his “dark sayings,” making known his wonderful purposes to faithful servants at his appointed time.—Amos 3:7; Matthew 24:25-27.
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Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart