Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Fertile Ground
The fertility of the earth symbolizes the quality of life
of those who inhabit it. The garden paradise of Adam and Eve represents
the ideal abundant existence for humanity. When God pronounces his
curse to Adam, he curses the ground, vowing that humans will have
to toil to produce food from the earth. God similarly destroys the
ground when he sends the great flood. After Noah and his family
emerge from the ark, however, the moist and fertile earth symbolizes
the renewal of human life. When Joshua investigates the
promised land in Numbers, he praises the region as a fruitful land
that “flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27).
Biblical poetry frequently uses the image of fertile ground as a
metaphor for human flourishing. In the Song of Solomon, a verdant,
overgrown garden symbolizes the sexual maturity of a young woman.
In Psalm 23, the psalmist emphasizes the herding
culture of the ancient Hebrew people, characterizing God’s peace
as a shepherd who guides a sheep to green pastures.
The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant is Israel’s chief symbol of God.
The Israelites fashion the golden vessel at Mount Sinai according
to God’s instructions. The Ark contains a copy of the religious
laws as well as a container of the heavenly food, manna. God’s spirit
or presence is said to reside between the two angels on the lid
of the Ark in a space called “the mercy seat.” The Ark’s power is
immense. When the Israelites carry it into the battle at Jericho,
it ensures victory. When it is mistreated, or dropped, or when it falls into
the wrong hands, the Ark proves fatal to its handlers.
The Ark symbolizes the totality of all the symbols of
God’s covenant with the Israelites—it even represents God himself.
As such, the Ark’s location at each moment indicates Israel’s commitment
to the covenant. When the Ark does not have a permanent home or resting
place, Israel’s religious life remains disorganized. In the Book of
Samuel, the Ark is actually stolen by the Philistines, representing a
spiritual low-point for Israel. Israel’s treatment of the Ark is
thus emblematic of their reverence for God.