'A picture paints a thousand words.' Sometimes pictures ARE words.
The first Chinese words were not written, but rather drawn. They were carved onto tortoise shells and dried cattle bones. Millions of people today continue to draw pictures as words. Most characters are much simpler than the original pictographs. Even as those early men copied creation in their own efforts to preserve information for others distanced by time or space, so God has preserved elements which point to Himself.
Take the character for a field, for example. Without question, millennia after it was first scratched on a shell or bone, it still looks like a field. It is a square box divided neatly into four quadrants. 'Strength' is depicted by an image of a clenched forearm. The character for ‘man’ combines both the field and strength***. Man was directed by God to manage creation, and yet, tragically and senselessly, rebelled against God’s rule. After the Fall, man was cursed, and so his attempts to get food from the earth now require significant expense of strength*. This sad history of the curse for man’s rebellion is recorded in the character for ‘man’.
Admittedly, until I understood the origin of the character for man, I always remembered it because of its resemblance to someone with a big head and a lot of strength but not much else. To be fair, the character for a woman looks to me rather like a person with no head but huge hips. Perhaps I’m a little sensitive in this regard, having just today picked up jeans today from the tailor. She has never seen anyone with such a strange waist to hip ratio, but having measured me, made the jeans to fit. She neglected, however, to insert a long enough zip to easily allow the jeans to slide over the hips before buttoning up snugly around the waist. We westerners are very strange shapes … it just goes to show that the Great Creator likes some variation in His artwork.
The actual origin of the character for woman is a picture of a person bowed in servitude. Later it was modified to show somebody kneeling. Today’s simplified version shows a woman standing up straight taking great strides***. I’m sure those early scribes, in drawing the bowing dutiful woman, were remembering the curse placed upon the first woman after the fall, of desiring and yet being ruled by her husband**.
Last but not least, let us consider the name of the Great Artist Himself. The Chinese character for God literally means 'above all emperors'. The first part, 'above', is simply a line representing the ground, then a line pointing up from the ground. The character for 'emperor' is quite complex.
The ancient character for 'emperor', which would have been scratched into those bones or shells, showed a figure clothed in luxurious robes, with the sky immediately above his head. Nobody else came between the emperor and heaven. The emperor traditionally wore golden yellow robes, lived in a golden yellow elaborate complex, and the buildings in which he stayed on his travels were permitted to be painted golden as well. Nobody else, however, was allowed to use this imperial colour.
Over time, the part of the character that depicted those robes was modified slightly to become a picture of thorns immediately under heaven. Later, the character was modified further again, so that today it is slightly different to the character for 'thorns'.
Every time we write … or draw … the character for God, we remember the Great Emperor who is above all emperors. We remember the one who wore … and again wears … magnificent imperial robes, described by the apostle John as reaching to his feet and including a golden sash which is wound around the chest****. The magnificence even of just that sash would make the yellow robes of those Chinese emperors look like the mud of the Yellow River.
And yet The Greatest Emperor exchanged His divine robes for thorns.
The exchange of the robes for the thorns is how they who, because of the curse, exert their strength toiling the fields, can be reconciled to the Creator. It is how we who, because of the curse, bow in servitude … and boast child-bearing hips … can be reconciled to the Great Emperor.
Man, woman, God … these simple pictures which are, in fact, words, portray an incredible story that cannot be adequately described even in thousands of words.
* Genesis 3:19
** Genesis 3:16
***What's in a Chinese Character by Tan Huay Peng, 1998, New World Press, Singapore pages 1 (woman), 12 (man), 144 (God).
**** Revelation 1:13
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