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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beauty in the Bible

The word, "beauty" occurs in the Bible a number of times. The Hebrew word,  תִּפְאָרָה, which is rendered as tiph'arah in English, occurs over 40 times in the Old Testament. It is translated variously, depending on the context and the translation. According to the Blueletter Bible's page on this word, it is translated as glory, beauty, beautiful, honor, fair, glorious, bravery, comely, excellent, and perhaps other words. I will quote several occurrences of the word, using the World English Bible, which is in the public domain, below. I have also included an occurrence of the word "lovely," which has a related meaning, because the verse is important. (See here for a graphic presentation of that verse.)

Exodus 28:2 You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. . . . 40 “You shall make coats for Aaron’s sons, and you shall make sashes for them and you shall make headbands for them, for glory and for beauty.

Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after,
that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life,
to see Yahweh’s beauty,
and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but Yahweh made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him.
Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Isaiah 33:15 He who walks righteously,
and speaks blamelessly;
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
who gestures with his hands, refusing to take a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of blood,
and shuts his eyes from looking at evil—
16 he will dwell on high.
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks.
His bread will be supplied.
His waters will be sure.
17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty.
They will see a distant land.

Isaiah 53:2b He has no good looks or majesty.
When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised,
and rejected by men;
a man of suffering,
and acquainted with disease.
He was despised as one from whom men hide their face;
and we didn’t respect him.
4 Surely he has borne our sickness,
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed. 

Ezekiel 16:11 I decked you with ornaments, and I put bracelets on your hands, and a chain on your neck. 12 I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your clothing was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered work; you ate fine flour, and honey, and oil; and you were exceeding beautiful, and you prospered to royal estate. 14 Your renown went out among the nations for your beauty; for it was perfect, through my majesty which I had put on you, says the Lord Yahweh. 15 But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your prostitution on everyone who passed by; his it was. 16 You took of your garments, and made for yourselves high places decked with various colors, and played the prostitute on them. This shall not come, neither shall it be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and played the prostitute with them; 18 and you took your embroidered garments, and covered them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 My bread also which I gave you, fine flour, and oil, and honey, with which I fed you, you even set it before them for a pleasant aroma; and so it was, says the Lord Yahweh. [God, prophesying against Israel, through Ezekiel]

Ezekiel 27:1 Yahweh’s word came again to me, saying, 2 You, son of man, take up a lamentation over Tyre; 3 and tell Tyre, you who dwell at the entry of the sea, who are the merchant of the peoples to many islands, thus says the Lord Yahweh: You, Tyre, have said, I am perfect in beauty. 4 Your borders are in the heart of the seas; your builders have perfected your beauty.
10 Persia and Lud and Put were in your army, your men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in you; they showed your beauty. 11 The men of Arvad with your army were on your walls all around, and valorous men were in your towers; they hanged their shields on your walls all around; they have perfected your beauty.

Ezekiel 28:1 Yahweh’s word came again to me, saying, 2 Son of man, tell the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, I am a god, I sit in the seat of God, in the middle of the seas; yet you are man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God—
6 therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because you have set your heart as the heart of God, 7 therefore, behold, I will bring strangers on you, the terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom, and they shall defile your brightness.
11 Moreover Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, 12 Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and tell him, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: You seal up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness: I have cast you to the ground; I have laid you before kings, that they may see you.

Zechariah 9:16 Yahweh their God will save them in that day as the flock of his people;
for they are like the jewels of a crown,
lifted on high over his land.
17a For how great is his goodness,
and how great is his beauty!

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. 

There are also a number of uses of the word, "beautiful" in the Bible. Genesis 12 refers to Sarai (later called Sarah), Abraham's wife, as beautiful. 1 Samuel 25:3 says that the woman, Abigail, was beautiful. Deuteronomy 12:11 speaks of the possibility of capturing a beautiful woman in war.  David, as a youth, was called beautiful in 1 Samuel 25:3. So was Moses, as a baby, in Acts 7:20 and Hebrews 11:23. Several women, including Bathsheba, David's daughter Tamar, and his granddaughter Tamar, Abishag, who took care of David in his last days, Esther, Job's daughters, the woman in Song of Solomon are called beautiful. Other entities are called beautiful, in both Testaments. Joshua 7:21 speaks of Achan, who took a beautiful cloak from Jericho, which he should not have done. Isaiah 52:7 says that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful, and this is quoted in Romans 10:15. Ezekiel 16, 23 and 31 speak of beautiful things being taken away from people because of their misbehavior. Matthew 26:10 and Mark 14:6 quote Jesus, as saying that the woman who anointed him had done a beautiful thing. Acts 3 says that one of the gates of the Temple was named Beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11a says "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Thanks for reading!

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Added October 30, 2012.

Note the number of women, some of them mature, designated as beautiful in the above list, compared to only two men, one a baby, and one a youth. I suppose this reflects the culture of Bible times. The same would be true of my own culture -- few men would be called beautiful, whereas many women are. Is this because of the way we perceive each other, in other words, is this cultural? Is it biological, somehow built in? I don't know. It is also possible that God, Himself, sees women as more beautiful than men.


Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for writing this.

Btw, I've heard good things about a book called "The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth" by David Bentley Hart. I haven't read it yet (on my list, though). Wanted to mention it in case the book might be edifying, & it seems to be on-topic.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

You are welcome. I looked up the book, and it's not available at the libraries I usually use, nor is it available for less than $25 from Amazon. I did find a review in _First Things_, which recommends the book, but says that you shouldn't start it unless you have a week to give to it!