WORD STUDY – BOAST AND MAGNIFY
Isaiah 10:15: “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? [or] shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake [itself] against them that lift it up, [or] as if the staff should lift up [itself, as if it were] no wood.”
I read an interest story in the Talmud in Taanite 20a. It told of a rabbi who was traveling along a road when he came upon an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him: “Peace be unto you, my master.” The rabbi did not return the salutation but instead said to him, “How ugly you are. Are all the people in you village as ugly as you?” The man replied: “I do not know, but go to the Craftsmen and say: “How ugly is this vessel that You made.” To this the rabbi fell to the ground and repented for insulting God.
Today in out politically correct society we would never dare say such a thing to a person. But it was not too long ago people did not follow political correctness and thought nothing of calling someone ugly. Abraham Lincoln told the story of the time he rode his horse down a trail on what is today known as Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C. A rather eloquent woman rode up to him and remarked: “Sir, you are probably the ugliest man in the world.” Lincoln replied: “You are probably right madam, but there is nothing I can do about it.” The woman rode of saying: “At least you can stay indoors.”
There was also a time at the turn of the century when Henry Ford needed an expert electrical engineer to build the generators to power his auto plants. He sent to Germany and convinced the great electrical genius Charles Steinmetz to immigrate to America to design and build his generators. However, as Charles Steinmetz passed through immigration he was refused entry. Henry Ford had to personally plead for his entrance. The reason, he was too ugly. Charles Steinmetz suffered dwarfism and had a hunchback.
Isaac Watts who lived in England a few years prior to the American Revolution was a famous poet and hymn writer. He was also suffered from dwarfism as well as an infirmity that gave him an enlarged head which he covered with a powdered wig. There was a woman in Scotland who read his poems and was convinced Isaac Watts was her soul mate. She wrote to the famous poet and he wrote back to her and she became more convinced that she was his soul mate. She announced to everyone in her village in Scotland that she was going to London England to be the wife of the famous Isaac Watts, even though she never met him in person. Even today statutes and portraits of Isaac Watts hide his infirmities.
So she arrived in London on the Sabbath and went to the First Congregational Church where Isaac Watts was the music director. She sat in the pew and looked up and there she saw this head. She thought, “Surely this is not her beloved Isaac Watts.” But it was. They were introduced and spent some time together collaborating and before long Isaac even proposed marriage to her. She replied: “Oh, Isaac, if only the mind would fit the body.” She turned him down and ended up marrying one of Isaacs best friends. She and Isaac still remained friends and collaborated for the rest of their lives.
Even if it is politically incorrect to point out another’s infirmities or appearance we will honor the beautiful and talented. If we don’t ridicule the those who we consider not as beautiful or talented to match our standards we then pity them. Some of us may feel we are ugly and ungifted and may even feel anger towards God that He did not create us to be more beautiful or talented. Some who had great beauty watch that beauty fade after just a decade or two of enjoying their status and then they curse their age and fading beauty.
The simple fact is that we are all the creation of God. Does the thing made say to its maker why have you made me thus? Romans 9:20. To curse our appearance or the way God created us is really to insult God and say He just did not know what He was doing.
But on the flip side, those who have been given great physical beauty and talents often, like the rabbi in the above story, look down on those who do not possess such beauty and talents and scorn such people. Yet the Bible asks: “Does the ax boast itself against the woodsman?” A woodsman chops down a giant tree does the ax say: “Look at that huge tree I just chopped down.”
The word boast in Hebrew is pa’ar which means to be beautiful, to adorn, to make oneself beautiful. It comes from a Semitic root to honor yourself over others. Does the saw magnify itself over the carpenter? The word magnify in Hebrew is gadal which means to make great. In its Semitic root it has the idea of twisting and binding, drawing into oneself. One who makes himself great has a tendency to draw into himself and consider himself superior to others such that they will not learn from others they consider less talented and ugly. Worse they will not even listen to their creator who made them that way for His own purpose.
I remember one of the greatest influences in my life was a man who was a bum. My father help establish a rescue mission in Chicago and as a child I would go with him to the mission where he would preach to the men off the streets and I would play the piano for the music portion of the service. My piano playing was worse than the singing of the drunks in the audience.
After one service a bum came up to me. He was truly a poster child for an alcoholic, street bum. He wore clothes that were torn, dirty and reeked of urine. His breathe smelled like a brewery. You could say it was intoxicating. His hair was matted, he had a five day old or longer beard, his face was pocked marked, his eyes were deeply blood shot and his nose was the red nose of an alcoholic. He came up to me and asked; “Kid, am I pretty?” I said, “No.” He walked away and said: “That’s what whisky will do to you.” I have never in my life even tasted alcohol because of that lesson from that old bum.
Sometimes God creates someone that we consider ugly, but to Him they are beautiful because He created them for a purpose. Other times we take something beautiful that God created and make it ugly.