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The Affecting Force of Scriptures

[An article from the archives. June 22, 2011.]

The Scriptures have a powerful way of performing on all of its readers and hearers a spiritual diagnostic that reveals the state of men’s hearts and souls. Thus the reactions and approaches of men to Scripture are driven by the state of their soul. Below are some quotations of great Christian men of the past whose astute observations about this truth are quite insightful and to-the-point on this matter. It may also help us to see that when men have occasional issues with accepting the words of the Scriptures (the Bible) that it cannot be something that is solely intellectually borne but is also something spiritually wrought. So we must realize that no one can come to a deeper, or even a ‘sagacious’ (scholarly), understanding of God’s word unless they first plainly listen to Scripture and stop trying to out-maneuver the forcefullness of its message and its working upon the spirit and soul.

The only real argument against the Bible is an unholy life. When a man argues against the Word of God, follow him home, and see if you cannot discover the reason of his enmity to the Word of the Lord. It lies in some form of sin. He, whom God sends, cares nothing at all about human wisdom, so as to fawn upon it and flatter it; for he knows that ‘the world by wisdom knew not God,’ and that human wisdom is only another name for human folly.”
– Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), Pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England

I believe one main cause of objections to the Bible lies in its power over man’s conscience. The Book will speak for God, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. But all critics are not so open as the poor East-end lecturer, who, when asked by one of his hearers, ‘Why is all your criticism turned against the Bible instead of against Shakespeare or Homer? Why don’t you let the Bible alone?’ replied with English outspokenness, ‘Why don’t I let the Bible alone? Because the Bible will not let me alone.’ It ever has been a witness for God, and still will be, while men need a light in a dark place.”
– Andrew J. Jukes (1815-1901), Pastor of St. John’s Church, Hull, England (The Names of God, pgs. 225-226) 

Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself!
– Charles H. Spurgeon

Many read the Bible the way a mouse tries to remove the cheese from a trap without getting caught.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Either the Bible will keep you away from sin, or sin will keep you away from the Bible.”
– C. S. Lewis

St. John Chrysostom says that it is a great blessing from God that some parts of the Scriptures are clear while others are not. By means of the first we acquire faith and ardour and do not fall into disbelief and laziness because of our utter inability to grasp what is said. By means of the second we are roused to enquiry and effort, thus both strengthening our understanding and learning humility from the fact that everything is not intelligible to us.”
– Peter of Damascus (The Philokia, Volume 3)

To the observations of Andrew Jukes and Charles Spurgeon (both contemporary English preachers) as well as C.S. Lewis above I would add my own quotation:

Those who do not believe the Bible claim that those who do are ignorant of the supposed ‘facts’ of science and history, to which I reply in turn that those who do not believe the Bible are ignorant of the state of their soul.” – Me

The latter reply, granted, is not exactly a direct answer to the former claim, but it is rather a counteraction of its accusation of ‘ignorance’ and the impetus from which such claims arise. Jesus in the Gospels on several occasions would answer someone according to what they needed to hear, not exactly according to what they had asked. So first we would be wise, overall, to examine ourselves and see if anything is keeping us from God and from hearing His Word rightly. We should not be trying to snatch only the pleasing parts from God’s Word without applying the necessary self-judgment and repentance (snatching the cheese from the mousetrap). Because – God forbid! – conviction of the truth might be a deadly trap to our fleshly ways.

It is repulsive to the worldly-minded that to be a follower of Jesus is to be – blessed paradox that it is – a living martyr (a witness/testimony – Greek marturia). Such a one is someone who signs their death warrant the day they believe in Christ, dying daily to themselves and living through Christ. The Gospel then, as the Word of God which tells us how we should follow Jesus, is a stumbling block for our flesh. Now the analogy of the mouse and the cheese in the mousetrap is not perfect, as to portraying the method in which the Gospel calls to us, but it serves its purpose as pertains to those who approach the Gospel carnally.

Next then, if once we have examined ourselves and still yet find that we have questions about the Scriptures. we would do well to realize that “some parts of the Scriptures are clear while others are not” and some things require additional “enquiry and effort“. That additional enquiry to gain understanding cannot be apart however from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and especially “humility“, because of, indeed it is true, “the fact that everything is not intelligible to us.” The one who instead comes to the Bible, apart from God and saving belief, and pontificates theories and hypotheses about the Word of God, balks at the idea that not all things are intelligible about God’s truths to their carnal mind, and that such truths are in fact hidden from those who profess to be wise (Romans 1:22). They remain confident within their academically clever frameworks of their position, apart from any examination of self or their own receptiveness to what Scriptures say. 

About such people the words of Spurgeon ring true: “that human wisdom is only another name for human folly“. Nevertheless, to those who are humble enough to approach the Scripture with no pretense, it is yet still also true that a great portion of Scripture is abundantly clear to all men, such that those who hear may believe and “acquire faith” to “grasp what is said” and thus benefit in their understanding and practice of godliness. This abundant clearness also leaves men without excuse for neglecting to properly respond.

Most of all, we must remember that the Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Yes, doubting man; yes, mature believer; yes, you who are now hearing God’s Word: the Word of God can judge your thoughts, desires, intentions, and also subconscious motivations, even penetrating to your very soul and spirit. It will with great effectiveness expose what is therein. For those who have sin in their heart, the Word of God is like salt in a wound and is like the stench of death (1 Corinthians 2:16). To such “sin will keep you away from the Bible“. Nonetheless, God’s Word will not return void. And His calling and persistent pressing through His Holy Spirit, in order to present the Word of truth to all people, will not “let you alone” or permit you to remain untouched.

Though you may rail against it, the Word of God still stands, as voidless and full of authority as when it went forth from God. However for those who feel that sting of death; and the agitation of the flesh in opposition to God’s spiritual ways (for the two are perpetually contrary to one another); and the true “power over man’s conscience” that the Scriptures wield; and then repent of that sin and believe in Jesus for salvation from sin and death: to them God’s Word is “a light in a dark place” and they come to realize that it “ever has been a witness for God“. And yes, to them it is even a “fragrance of life” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Neither God’s Spirit nor His Word will “let you alone” because His Spirit has come to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8), and only by receiving the Word in faith can anyone be saved from sin and judgment, hence, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Do not resist the working of the Word on you, because it can save your soul from eternal death. As the Scripture wisely admonishes, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled” (Hebrews 3:15). Do not approach the Word with your intellect solely because you will ultimately be confounded and frustrated in your efforts to carnally apprehend the spiritual truths of Scripture. That approach can quickly lead some to disgust and tossing out the Scriptures, or even hostile opposition to Scripture and attempting to bring it down to the level that they themselves are at, in order to interpret it according to their own desires and inclinations.

For by God’s wisdom and design the wisdom of man cannot attain to true spiritual understanding, and we are to rather realize that “not everything is intelligible to us“. To quote Jukes a second time:

The letter of Scripture is a veil just as much as it is a revelation; hiding while it reveals, and yet revealing while it hides. —Andrew Jukes

Yet in the confines of faith honest inquiry, examination, study, and searching for truth can indeed yield understanding and may even benefit the intellect. However in that case it would benefit one whose intellect and mind is possessed by Christ and is apprised of spiritual things through the Holy Spirit, by which one may know the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:11).

So surely we must hear the Word of God, confront it (for surely it confronts us – even as an unchained lion as Spurgeon says), believe in it, and then also seek to be as the Bereans who examined Scripture carefully to test if the things that they heard were true. And we must never forget to “Test everything, and hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The Crook of Shepherds, Kings, and Gods in the Ancient Near East

What is today an iconic symbol for shepherding has an interesting history when we look back at its origins in ancient history. A shepherd’s crook is a staff or rod with a hook at one end used for directing or separating herd animals such as sheep and cattle. The crook could conceivably be used to also hold an animal in place from stepping into danger or a place it should not go. Hence the crook was used for guiding and protecting a flock. Overall it was and still is a very useful tool for shepherds.

Yet, when we look back through historical relics, depiction of crooks is not always present with shepherds in the ancient world, and many are instead depicted simply with straight staves. Does that mean that the common assumption that shepherds had crooks in the ancient world three or four millenia ago is anachronistic? This article presents evidence that it is, in fact, not anachronistic. Furthermore, while the iconography for crooks in the ancient world is not abundant, it is yet sufficient to get an idea of its varieties across time and cultures. So then, it bears some special attention to trace the imagery of the crook in the Ancient Near East in particular to illustrate what the crooks looked like and how they were depicted. I will only briefly survey such imagery below to serve as a quick orientation. As will be seen, the crook was used not only by shepherds but also by hunters, and was even applied as a symbol of rulership and protection to kings and gods.

This iconography is particularly helpful to illustrate numerous ancient texts which speak generically of shepherds’ “rods”. Some such rods may have actually been crooks, while others were indeed straight. The distinction in iconography also helps us better understand the significance of distinct words which existed in certain languages which specially designated a crook rather than a staff (such as are found in the Egyptian and Hittite languages). Additionally, when reading we might conjure images to our mind of what those crooks looked like based on more modern forms, but while there are indeed some similarities there are also some interesting differences to be observed. What better source to gain clarity on such details than ancient peoples themselves showing us what these useful shepherding implements looked like?


The Egyptians have provided us some vivid examples from Egypt of curves staves or crooks. Henry Fischer in a survey of numerous kinds of staves depicted in Egyptian reliefs and iconography notes several different illustrations of curved staves.[1]Fischer, Henry G. “Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 13 (1978). Among the figures he supplies [from plates by J.E. Quibell, Excavations at Saqqara 1907-1908 (Cairo, 1909)], one shows a man using a curved staff with the crook around the neck of one of the fowl. In another figure, two men are pictured with curved staves in hand, one of the men having a dog (likely a “Tesem” hunting dog) on a leash.

In another context in which a crook appears, it perhaps unexpectedly shows their use in an instance which does not show cattle:

“In other scenes at Beni Hasan the herdsmen who carry such staves are tending cranes… Three Theban examples of the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty show herdsmen with …crooks driving long-necked fowl — a crane in one case and, in two other cases, flocks of cranes, ducks, and geese.”[2]Ibid., Pgs. 8-9.

Fischer reproduces the following plates for those scenes [from Jean-Francois Champollion, Monuments de l’Égypte et de la Nubie, Planches, IV (Paris, 1845)]:

A third example, found among Egyptian paintings found at Beni Hassan of visiting Asiatic peoples.

A restoration and enhancement of the damaged original from Beni Hassan.

His staff might be simply a shepherd’s tool, but might also be a symbol reinforcing his princely status by reiterating his title.

A portion of the painting shows a man placing a rod of some sort which has a slight curve to it behind the neck of an ibex. While it is not clearly a crook it may yet be related to it in some way by serving a similar function. This man’s name is given as Abishai or Abisharie and he is depicted as the leader of the delegation and a ruler.

Susan Cohen in a discussion of the painting describes the object as simply a “curved implement”. She writes: “Abishai is shown using a curved implement to further control the ibex, while the man behind him grasps the gazelle’s horns with his right hand.”[3]Cohen, Susan. “Interpretative Uses and Abuses of the Beni Hasan Tomb Painting.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 74, no. 1 (2015): 19–38.

Another source notes two things about the depiction. First, it mentions the heiroglyphic symbol showing a crook that is written above the ibex:

“The title HqA xAswt (ruler of the hill-lands) is familiar in its Hellenized form, Hyksos, most often associated with the Levantine princes who conquered Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1650 B.C.)… HqA, written with a crook, is commonly translated as ‘ruler’…”[4]Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Cultures in Contact : From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C., Edited by Joan Aruz, Sarah B Graff, and Yelena Rakic. … Continue reading

Secondly, it endeavors to describe the object in the man’s hand and its purpose (describing the latter as a staff that may have been used by shepherds):

“Abisharie extends his right hand with the palm flat and facing down, in a gesture of respect or submission, toward a large standing figure of Khnumhotep II. With the other, he uses a short staff to restrain a Nubian ibex. His staff might be simply a shepherd’s tool, but might also be a symbol reinforcing his princely status by reiterating his title (although it is significantly less curved than the hieroglyph for HqA).”[5]Ibid., Pg. 159.

These observations of the crook being used as royal symbol leads into the next iconographic category.


One of the earliest examples we have in Egyptian iconography of the royal use of a crook is shown in the following relief of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II (ca. 2100 BCE–ca. 2000 BCE), of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom.

Relief of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II (housed in the Louvre).

The quintessential and most bedazzling example though found among Egyptian artifacts is, of course, the instance of the innermost coffin and burial mask of Tutankhamun which was found inside his sarcophagus.

The famous coffin and burial mask of Tutankhamun.

Egyptian royalty were not the only ones known to use crooks in their iconography though. The Hittites were also known to employ them as a royal symbol. Citing examples of pastoralism in Hittite culture, Arbuckle and Hammer write:

“The shepherd’s crook, or litus, served as a Hittite royal symbol, and livestock were frequently listed as booty in military campaigns (Beckman 1988). Sheep, goat, and cattle pastoralism were highly integrated into local economies, with both settlement-based herding and transhumance attested in texts.”[6]Arbuckle, B. and E. Hammer. 2019. The Rise of Pastoralism in the Ancient Near East. Journal of Archaeological Research 27: 391449 Pg 34. (italics original)

One relief found at Hattusa depicts “the God Sharruma (son of the Thunder God Teshub) embracing King Tudhaliya IV, Yazılıkaya, the Hittite sanctuary of Hattusa, Turkey”[7]Wikipedia:,_capital_of_the_Hittite_Empire_38.jpg, showing Tudhaliya grasping an inverted crook in hand.

The god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya IV. (Image provided by Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

“The shepherd’s crook, or litus, served as a Hittite royal symbol, and livestock were frequently listed as booty in military campaigns…”

Hittite relief depicting a crook.

Hence we see evidence of the crook in ordinary pastoralism in the Hittite Empire, but also the heightened use of the common shepherding implement as a symbol of kings as well.


The Hittite Dictionary published by the University of Chicago mentions a Hittite text which it translates (with the publisher’s editorial and parenthetical notes): “But who will cull them (the calves mentioned two lines before) out (of the herd)? The Stormgod [will cull] them [with] a rod, both with a rod and a crook.”[8]The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Pg. 176. The text source it cites is … Continue reading

This characterizes a deity in a shepherding role who notably is using two different shepherding implements: a rod and a crook. This description is especially interesting given the description of a divine shepherd with two implements in Psalm 23:4 (“your rod and your staff“) applied to the true God of Israel, Yahweh, and may help us visualize and distinguish the two. A rod was simply straight, and may have been short to be used as a club or smite dangerous animals or other attackers, whereas the crook had the curved end for the purposes mentioned before (directing herd animals). It is not unlikely that the crook was also occasionally used as a weapon (refer to the hunting example below), but that was not its primary purpose.

The Israelite religion was aniconic, meaning they were forbidden to depict Yahweh as it clearly stated in the opening lines of the Ten Commandments. Hence there is no iconography to be found of Yahweh shepherding, even though speaking of Yahweh as a shepherd is a common description used in the Old Testament to signify his authority, care, and protection over Israel. However, other Ancient Near Eastern peoples did create imagery depicting their gods with a shepherd’s crook to symbolize to their role as guiding and protecting deities.

“But who will cull them (the calves …) out (of the herd)? The Stormgod [will cull] them [with] a rod, both with a rod and a crook.”


Following are a few instances of such iconography of deities using the shepherd’s crook.

Mesopotamian gods: Amurru / Martu

The deity Amurru (also known as Martu) was commonly depicted with a crook in iconography. The name Amurru is Akkadian while Martu is the deity’s Sumerian counterpart name. Joshua J. Mark writes on Amurru:

“The Akkadian and Sumerian name for the storm/sky god of the Amorite people (also known as the Amurru) who migrated to the Mesopotamian region c. 2100 BCE. The god Amurru is associated with Adad but is a gentler version always depicted with a gazelle and a shepherd’s crook or staff and watched over nomads. He was also known as Martu. His consort is Beletseri, scribe of the dead.”[9]Mark, Joshua J. The Mesopotamian Pantheon. World History Encyclopedia.

The god Martu with a crook in hand.

Amurru grasping a crook.

Egyptian deities

It is no surprise to see Egyptian deities shown bearing a crook as well, as its Pharaohs did.

Ra-Horakhty with the crook and flail.
Egyptian Moon god Khonsu with crook and flail.

Greek deities and creatures

The Greek god Pan as well as satyrs were sometimes depicted with a crook as well, as shown in the following images.

A satyr with a basket of berries and a crook on a silver amphora (Image by the Seuso Research Project).

Pan depicted with crook in hand on a Roman sarcophagus.
Statue of Pan with a goat.



The Crook Used in Hunting

The last example, however, is perhaps the most lively and vivid illustration of them all, provided to us from ancient Thrace. In the year 2000, a Thracian burial mound dating to the 4th century BC was accidentally discovered in Aleksandrovo, Bulgaria. Inside the burial chamber was found a domed ceiling along which a circular fresco was painted. It depicts an elaborate hunting scene. In one portion of the painting, a man is depicted wielding a curved wooden stick in one hand and a spear in the other. He is standing behind another hunter on horseback who is attacking an antlered animal (possibly a deer or moose). Thrace was for a long time independent of Greece and Macedonia until Phillip of Macedon conquered it in the mid-4th century BC, so this painting was made shortly before or concurrent with the Macedonian occupation of Thrace and thus likely shows native Thracian use of the crook.

The iconography more closely parallels the example we find in Psalm 23 of “dual wielding” a shepherd’s crook along with another implement, although in this case it is a spear rather than an unpointed staff.

Image provided by World History Encyclopedia under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. From:

Overall, we can see that the imagery of the shepherd’s crook was widespread across cultures and time periods. The instrument was popular with shepherds for tending their animals. If one came into a violent confrontation with a wild animal, the crook could even be utilized to restrain, strike, or catch an animal. In the case of kings and gods, it also came to symbolize a ruler with power to guide the people under them. Thus, the crook found a versatile and enduring use in the Ancient Near East; illustration of which has been preserved for us in ancient iconography beyond the references found in ancient texts, thereby bringing alive before our eyes how they were utilized.


1 Fischer, Henry G. “Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 13 (1978).
2 Ibid., Pgs. 8-9.
3 Cohen, Susan. “Interpretative Uses and Abuses of the Beni Hasan Tomb Painting.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 74, no. 1 (2015): 19–38.
4 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Cultures in Contact : From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C., Edited by Joan Aruz, Sarah B Graff, and Yelena Rakic. Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Pg. 159.
5 Ibid., Pg. 159.
6 Arbuckle, B. and E. Hammer. 2019. The Rise of Pastoralism in the Ancient Near East. Journal of Archaeological Research 27: 391449 Pg 34.
7 Wikipedia:,_capital_of_the_Hittite_Empire_38.jpg
8 The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Pg. 176. The text source it cites is from a 60 volume collection of cuneiform tablets from Boghazköi titled Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi (28.9).
9 Mark, Joshua J. The Mesopotamian Pantheon. World History Encyclopedia.