Metaphor and the Bible
A metaphor is a comparison made between two or more things using figurative or descriptive language. Metaphors serve to make difficult to understand ideas or concepts more tangible. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.
As the metaphor is one of the most common literary devices, it can be found in almost any text, and The Bible is no exception. Some of the metaphors found in The Bible are alluded to and referenced in many other texts, so it pays to be familiar with them and understand what is being said. Here is a list of fifteen of the most famous metaphors in The Bible.
• Proverbs 13:14
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.
In our first example, teaching is compared to a fountain, but not just any fountain. The fountain of life is a common metaphor that suggests a continuing source of sustenance and life.
• Isaiah 64:8
But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.
In this metaphor, God is compared to a potter who molds clay. God’s followers are the clay and are subject to his design and influence.
• Psalms 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Here is a commonly alluded to a metaphor from one of the most famous passages in The Bible. God is compared to a shepherd, someone whose duty it is to look after and care for his sheep.
• John 6:35
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.’
In this metaphor, Jesus compares himself to bread. The bread of life is a symbolic idea that Jesus offers eternal fulfillment. Like bread sustains us in life, Jesus’s metaphor suggests that he can sustain his followers in a spiritual sense.
• John 8:12
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’
Here is another metaphor that Jesus used to talk about himself. He calls himself “the light of the world.” In The Bible, light refers to salvation, and darkness refers to sinfulness.
• Revelations 19:7
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.
This example contains three metaphors. The lamb is Jesus, the bride is the Church or the followers of Christ, and the marriage is the union of the two in heaven.
• Isaiah 5:5
So now let me tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
In this example, God is warning Israel, which he refers to as his “vineyard.” God says he will remove “its hedge” or protective surroundings and allow its destruction.
• Deuteronomy 32:4
He is the rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.
Metaphors about God and Jesus abound in The Bible. God is commonly referred to as a rock, as in this example.
• Psalm 18:2
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
As in the last example, God is compared to a rock. But this metaphor is expanded in this verse from Psalms. God is compared to a fortress, a shield, and a stronghold to illustrate his role as a protector.
• Revelations 21:6
And He said unto me, it is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
Here is another commonly quoted verse from The Bible. In it, God compares himself to the Greek alphabet. The first and last letter of the Greek alphabet is alpha and omega, respectively.
• Genesis 49:9
Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
This verse illustrates another commonly alluded to the name of God. In this verse, Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, is called a “lion’s whelp,” or a lion’s cub. It is from this verse that the term of God as “the Lion of Judah” originates.
• John 14:6
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
In this verse, Jesus establishes himself as not only the pathway to God but also as truth and life itself.
• John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Here is another commonly quoted Bible verse with a famous metaphor. In this example, Jesus compares himself to a vine and calls his followers branches of the vine, in that they are extensions of himself. Also, Jesus states his followers will “bear much fruit,” meaning good things will come as a result of their faith.
• Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
In this example, followers of Christ are said to be “a new creation.” It is metaphorical, of course, because something already existing cannot be created.
• Matthew 5:13
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Here is another famous metaphor for the followers of Christ. They are compared to salt, in that they have a purpose in the world. In biblical times, salt was very important as a preservative, flavoring, and even as currency. This metaphor says that followers of Christ have no purpose without Christ.
• Psalm 84:11
For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
Here’s God is compared to the sun, to display the quality of brightness. Sun is also the source of life on earth. God is also compared to a shield. This describes God as a fierce protector and will protect his children from any harm.
• 2 Samuel 22:2
He said: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer
In this verse, King David praises the qualities of God and compares rock to the strength or courage. By believing in God, he gets the courage to face an adverse situation. Fortress means protection because, in the ancient times, the forts were built to protect the palaces from the intruders.
• Deuteronomy 32:6
Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?
Here the God is compared to a ‘Father’. Every living thing on this planet has a mother and a father. However, here, a father also means a creator. It further explains that it was God who allowed us to be born, despite our parentage along with everything we find on the earth and in the universe.
• Malachi 2:10
Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?
Here one father means creator which is one of the qualities attributed to God. ‘Profane the covenant’ here signifies violating or breaking the commandments given by God to the people of that time. It doesn’t mean using profanity as a language.
• John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Here Jesus is compared to a shepherd, and the people are compared to sheep. A shepherd’s job is to protect his sheep from dangerous animals. Similarly, Jesus explains that He has to protect His people and die for them.
• John 9:5
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Here Jesus compares himself to the light. Light is signified as the end of darkness and the source of all good things like life and knowledge. This line is one of the most recited verses from the Bible.
• John 3:8
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
In this verse, ‘wind’ is compared to the unseen force that guides people and is also called as ‘Holy Spirit’ in The Bible, which is invisible in its form and also part of God, the Trinity.
• Revelation 5:8-12
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
Here Jesus is compared to the lamb as per the Jewish tradition. Just like the lamb that was used in sacrifice at the temples, Jesus was crucified on the cross which symbolizes sacrifice for the humanity. Lamb also signifies gentle nature.
• 1 Peter 5:8
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
In this verse, Satan is compared to a fierce and a dangerous lion. Lions are skilled hunters and can attack the prey without warning.
• Revelation 5:5
And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
In the above example, Satan is compared to a hunting lion. However, a lion is known for it’s majestic and royalty and also addressed as the King of Jungle. So here Jesus is compared a lion to display His strength, the grand power, and quality of a king.
• Isaiah 11:10
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Here Jesus is compared to ‘the root’ which means a descendant of King David’s father, Jesse. The root also signifies that Jesus will be born as a man, Jesse’s descendant, and yet have strong qualities of a tree root’s which keeps the tree alive and spreads the branches. Without a root, a tree cannot live. Similarly, Jesus is the source for his followers.
• Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
In this verse, Jesus is compared to a physical building, the church. Jesus as the church also means that members of the part of the church making them the part of Jesus and a mystical body; as each part of the body is essential for allowing the body, the church, to function efficiently.
• Psalm 80:1
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
Once again, Jesus is compared to a shepherd and Joseph, is a person, yet compared to one of the sheep in the flock. It signifies that Jesus guided Joseph to Egypt through a series of incidents which lead him to become the governor of Egypt.
• Matthew 23:37
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
These words spoken by Jesus, compare a hen gathering its chicks to a mother protecting their children from loneliness, danger or any suffering even if they are disobedient. Hence, giving a female description to express kindness shown by God.
• Job 33:4
The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Here Elihu, while speaking with Job convinces him to listen to his words because he is filled with divine knowledge and wants to share it with Job was suffering at that point. Here breath is compared to air or even oxygen which keeps humans and living creatures alive.
In each of these examples, figurative language and descriptions are used in order to make comparisons between different things easier to understand. Since each of these verses is commonly quoted and alluded to, the metaphors used are important. So, not only are these metaphors integral in The Bible but show up in many other texts.