The Bible is NOT a code book…

Weekly World News Apr 3, 2001 Vol. 22, No. 28

Weekly World News Apr 3, 2001 Vol. 22, No. 28

So, how did I preach about “Helicopter gunships in Joel“?

As I said, this was part of a series on “How to Read the Bible” and though the sermon was on Joel 2:5-8 the title was “The Bible is NOT a code book… the Bible means what it says“.

I’m uploading my presentation and an audio recording of the sermon (as whole “slides” rather than with some bullet points and images appearing sequentially to save bandwidth as I am using a borrowed connection this week, for the same rerason the audio is AMR rather than MP3) so you can get a feel for the sermon:

Basically I suggested:

  1. that there are three dominant pictures in Joel of a disaster: Locust plague, drought and invading army, and that these images shift from one to another through the book (even perhaps within a verse). This provides fertile ground for the “code-breakers”, but if the Bible “means what it says”, then it should not be impossibly difficult to understand without esoteric knowledge.
  2. that looking at the cotext (a previous sermon pointed out the importance of lookin g at the text around the passage) provides all the clues we need
    1. so, the opening of the chapter tells us these pictures concern the “day of the Lord” – a time when God would intervene to put right what was wrong
    2. and those that follow (Joel 2:12-14) tell Joel’s hearers that they are part of the problem and must truely repent – mere words or ritual actions are not enough
    3. if they/we do then we may discover the God who “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing”.

The Bible is not a code book, but clear, it means what it says, and contains good news!

Helicopter gunships in Joel – a plea for help

Photo by Chris M0EEG

My problem is a variant of Lingamish’s, but with existential urgency. He asked about one sort of almost unpreachable text (the vengeance passages in the OT) whether he should not just cut the Gordian knot and hack them from Scripture. I am preaching this Sunday (tomorrow already :(

I have to preach on one of those passages where the vivid pictures cause people to read the Bible as a code book. You know, the helecopter gunships in Joel or the jewels in the priestly breastplate… passages preachers are tempted to read as coded messages. They are two a penny in some parts of the Bible.

My problem is pretty much the usual one, except my topic was announced last month “The Bible is NOT a codebook, it means what it says“. Great idea, right? But how does one of these passages work to preach it straight.


5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
6 Before them peoples are in anguish,
all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge,
like soldiers they scale the wall.
Each keeps to its own course,
they do not swerve from their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another,
each keeps to its own track;
they burst through the weapons and are not halted.

Joel 2:5-8

Is not a prophecy of helecopter gunships in the 20th or 21st century, but of locusts and/or an invading Iron Age army then how is it good news for people in Blockhouse Bay tomorrow?

My problem has greaqter existential urgency as I have a church leadership retreat all day today, so only have a few hours for sermon prep tonight and tomorrow morning, so please help me!
How would YOU preach Exodus 26? Or the beginning of Joel 2?