Can You Describe That?

Can you identify these four short excerpts?  Each is found in the opening paragraph of a popular book.

“He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck…”

“His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh.”

“He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waist coat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas.”

“Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed.”

Can you name each book?  Actually, it doesn’t matter.  As it happens the excerpts are from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Da Vinci Code.  But I wasn’t really trying to give you a short quiz on 20th century popular fiction.

In fact, I wanted you to notice how important visual descriptions are in most books.  Later in those four books, we discover how Professor Dumbledore looks and we find out how Atticus Finch, Michael Henchard and Robert Langdon look and dress.  This is how most books are written.  Such descriptions help the reader imagine the scenes and get to know the characters.

The conspicuous exception is the Bible.  Do you have any idea of what Adam really looked like?  Okay, Noah had a long white beard, right?  But where did you get that idea?  His facial description is not found in Genesis.  The prophet Samuel wore a long purple robe?  Actually, we have no idea.  When he appeared before Pharaoh, Moses wore a pin-striped three-piece suit?  Perhaps he did.  We don’t have a clue.  All I can tell you is that had the Bible been written by any of the authors I quoted above, we’d have been provided with detailed descriptions.

You might guess that the Bible is more concerned with inner truths and with the hearts and souls of its characters than with how they look.  And you’d be right.  That doesn’t mean that the Bible never mentions clothing or looks. When it does, the clothing or appearance has significance for the spiritual lessons that will emerge.  Let’s look at five examples:

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked,
and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves coverings. 
(Genesis 3:7)

Rebecca took the valuable garments of Esau, her elder son,
which were with her in the house, and she dressed Jacob…
(Genesis 27:15)

Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features
and a beautiful appearance….
(Genesis 29:17)

And removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
(Genesis 41:42)

And he sent and brought him [David], and he was reddish,
with beautiful eyes, and handsome appearance.
(I Samuel 16:12)

In each of the examples I offered, the clothing changes the status of the wearer.  Adam and Eve betray their new erotic awareness; Jacob becomes Esau; Leah’s eyes relate to a prophecy and Rachel’s description reveals character traits ; The royal garments turn Joseph into someone his brothers cannot recognize. David is described in terms that predict his future triumphs as king and that link him to others similarly described, like Esau, Rachel and Esther.

It is worth paying special attention whenever Scripture provides a description of appearance or clothing.  It’s never as simple as it seems and always points to a deep, inner truth.

8 thoughts on “Can You Describe That?”

  1. Permission To Speak, Sir?
    Good day, Sunshine…
    Dear Sir,
    Hope you are well.
    Thank you for being you.
    Thank you Mrs Lapin.
    Much respect to you and blessings to your family.

    Don’t Worry….Be Happy

    Kind regards,

    Max R

  2. From TCT I remember an episode of AJW wherein you recall an important phase of your rabbinical training: to develop one’s powers of observation. In particular, how Moses received his revelation of the bush burning yet unconsumed: by keeping his eyes open. Other time-honored authors have focused on this, as well. For example, Rudyard Kipling has Kim training for The Great Game of international intelligence and espionage by learning to identify and remember a sequence of unconnected objects, and by mastering the art of disguise. Opening the doors of perception and manipulating or wrangling appearances are much more important than many suspect. It is particularly intriguing to suggest that the truth even in Scripture may oft be hid in plain sight before our very eyes.

  3. I was just reading about how much of Joseph’s life involves a change of garments. His father gives him a coat of many colors, and after he is sold his brothers dip that garment in blood. Potiphar’s wife is left with Joseph’s garment in her hands as he flees from her and she uses it to accuse him. Again we are told of Joseph appearing before Pharaoh in clean clothes when he interprets his dream and of new linen clothes being bestowed on Joseph when he correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dream. Later Joseph gives clothes to his brothers, especially his brother Benjamin. It seems with every life change event in Joseph’s life a change in garments is taken or given to him.

  4. NOW THAT WAS A TEASER! If people don’t buy the Genesis Journey set, they just might be fools. Thanks, I must go collect them and listen.
    I live about 4 hours from Akron, Ohio, and I so wanted to get there for the taping of your show. Did you ever want to just shake someone’s hand and say “THANK YOU”? Well, that would be me to you and Mrs. Lapin.

  5. I recently watched a true story on TV where a preacher who was big on giving to the poor. He dressed in rags, disguised his face and sat at the steps of his own church. Nearly the entire congregation took a wide path and walked right past him clucking and wagging their heads. Imagine their chagrin when he followed them in removed his disguise and began to preach. Maybe the old saw is true. The clothes really do make the man.

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