Summary: Why do so many road signs use only symbols to convey their message? Because the message is recognizable and understood almost instantly, and because unlike words, symbols hold their meaning and are very often universally understood. Perhaps that is why Go
THE POWER OF SYMBOLISM
Pastor Dan Little
This morning after the baptism service, we will come to the Communion Table. That being the case I want to talk to you about the power of symbolism.
Communicating by symbols is a very powerful form of communication. Think about it in terms of the signs such as you might see along a road or at an intersection. An octagonal shaped sign with a red background and large white letters is enough to stop a 25 ton Mack Truck. Signs not only tell you what to do but what to watch for. A railroad crossing sign for example (the one with the yellow “caution color" background with the X across the face and the letters R and R place to the left and right of the axis of the X) tells you to be watchful for the possibility of find a moving train blocking your path.
There are many signs that have no letters or spelled words on their face at all, just a silhouette of some animal as in a “watch out for dear” sign, or signs that have only a design of some kind that tells you “No Left Turn”, or “No U Turn,” or “Caution—Hard left or hard right turn.”
Do you know why so many signs communicate by means of symbols? There are two reasons;
1) symbols can be understood at a distance,
2) and once you become familiar with what the symbol recognition of the message is almost instantaneous.
But here is a question; why obey these symbolic communications? I offer another two-part answer;
1) for our own safety. It’s really good not to drive into a moving train)nice to be hit by a train), and
2) behind many of these signs is the force of law.
Thus these signs bear a great deal more importance and power than the sum and value of their component parts. Let me explain.
If you are caught taking down a railroad crossing sign you will be arrested and go before the judge. He may want to know why you doing that.
What will you say? Will you say to the judge, “My college bedroom décor needed a sign like that, and when I looked into the matter I discovered that the sign was nothing but a small bit of metal and some yellow with some black paint. So what is the big deal in taking a small piece of metal with some paint on its face and removing it to my room?”
What do you think the judge would say? Wouldn’t he say that the message conveyed by the symbols on that sign was far more importance than the value of its component parts? He might even suggest that you (the sign stealer) are worth little more than $4.50 when reduced to your component parts and maybe YOU will look good hanging on his library wall.
So think with me how often God communicates by means of symbols and how He feels about them.
Why does God communicates through symbols?
Perhaps it is because symbolic language is so strong and clear, and because unlike words such as “CHARITY” for example, that shift in their meaning over time, symbols retain their meaning and clarity over time, and the are more universally understood. And, after all the Gospel is for ever tribe, kindred and tongue as well as culutre and social stata.
Let me illustrate what I mean by universally understood.
No matter where I have traveled in this world when I am in places where people have been reduced to begging for food, the symbolic communication they use is always the same—a longing look, one hand extend asking for help and the other lifted up with fingers going to their lips or open mouth. I can neither read nor speak their language but they have spoken to me with perfect clarity. That’s the power of communicating with symbols.
Let’s look at three examples of the use of symbols in the Old Testament.
1. MOSES’ WALKING STICK
Moses carried a staff—a stick for walking. God chose to use it as the symbol of His own power and authority as it rested upon Moses.
God commanded Moses saying;
Exodus 4:17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs." ESV
The materialist’s view of this staff (the view held by so many in the West) says “It’s just a dead stick.”
• But with this dead stick Moses opened and closed the Red Sea and Israel realized a miraculous victory over Egypt’s military might. (Exodus 14).
• It brought forth water from a rock (Exodus 17:6).
• It brought forth great victory in the battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-13).
• So much did that stick symbolize the power of God that it is twice referred to as THE STAFF OF GOD.(Exodus 4:20, 17:20)