“Sky West From Crooked” – Do we really understand what the Bible means?
What does the phrase “Sky West from Crooked’ mean? If a person had to rely on Google, Yahoo, Bing or the many other search engines out there, we’d be in trouble to know what it means. This phrase is not found anywhere on the whole of the Internet (until now - at least I can’t find it if it is there). [Note: I would be interested to hear from any of my fellow Oklahomans (both of my parents are natives of Oklahoma) or those who live in neighboring areas if you ever have heard of this phrase.]
Yet this phrase has a meaning. Yes! In fact, this phrase was seemingly common parlance in rural Oklahoma society a little over a hundred years ago and it means “you don’t know where it comes from.”
I know about this phrase because my dad’s mom (who passed away and is asleep in Christ) used to say it. I can’t remember her ever saying it myself, but my aunt (who also sleeps in Christ), who was a great story teller, preserved the memory of this phrase in her vast recollections about the life and lifestyle of her parents and family. Here is a quote from my aunt talking about the language that her mom (my grandma) used to use:
“Aunt J: I don’t know if my mother’s is an Oklahoma accent or it’s just her, but she has so many words that are different than other people. She used to say so many things that I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t know what she was talking about unless maybe you were from that area [talking about the area in Oklahoma where my grandmother was from.]
J.G. – Like what?
“Aunt J: ‘I’ve heard her say, ‘Sky west from crooked,” that meant you didn’t know where it was coming from. Instead of saying, ‘always’ she said ‘allers.’ Oh, so many things. I’ve tried to get her on tape so I can remember for my children and grandchildren who are not going to know her to realize what a different way she had of speaking.”
So what does “Sky west from crooked” have to do with understanding the meaning of the Bible? Very much in fact.
The point is, look at the situation we who read and want to understand Scripture face? The Bible is by no means easy to understand sometimes. I am not alone in that assessment. Remember that great story from the book of Acts about the Ethiopian Eunuch:
“So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it. Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:27-37)
The Ethiopian Eunuch could read the words of Isaiah easy enough, but he did not understand what they meant. We see from the story how the power of the Holy Spirit touched this person, but it just goes to show that for more than 2,000 years, people have been reading Isaiah and many other parts of the Bible and they do not understand really what it means.
In fact, the Bible is not an easy book to understand. Note the following quote:
“We’re always looking for better ways to engage people in the Bible,” said Paul Caminiti, a vice president for Christian publisher Zondervan, headquartered in Michigan. “Plain-text Bibles are well over 1,000 pages. We’re talking about 66 different books of the Bible, and a book that was written to a culture that is 2,000 to 4,000 years old. It can be challenging for people to jump into.”
Mr. Caminiti is right. The Bible was written in a cultural environment some 2,000 to 4,000 years ago and we today are trying our best to understand what they meant at that time in their own historical contexts and to try our best to bring their ideas into our modern contexts and culture.
While as Mr. Caminiti said: “The Bible can be challenging to jump into,” some people don’t seem to think it challenging at all. They just “jump right in” and read it like today’s newspaper and in fact in part it is because of this approach that today, for example, there are more than 33,000 different denominations of Christianity around the world (and that was in 1995).
The point is, though, unless a person studies out these matters carefully comparing the Biblical teachings in the various contexts in which they are given and tries to understand what the people at that time meant in their own cultural context and then attempt to understand what they mean in light of our own context today (and in particular as Christians in light of the Gospel revelation of Jesus Christ), people risk being faced with a situation like the example I am here referring to. Everyone today knows individually what the words “sky,” “west,” “from,” and “crooked” mean, but when you put them together in a cultural milieu like Oklahoma in 1893 when my grandmother was born, unless you have someone to interpret the meaning for you, you will be totally lost as to what the meaning is. I know I would be unless I had the correct interpretation of the meaning given by my aunt. In fact, it is quite possible that this only 120 year old phrase could have been lost forever and no one would have ever discussed it again outside of what I am mentioning on this blog post.
Now let’s take this example back a bit farther to say the time of King Solomon. King Solomon lived some 3,000 years ago and we have some of his writings today in the pages of Scripture. Yes, we can read his words alright, but do we really understand all of them? Maybe yes and maybe no.
Look, the point is, with our modern conveniences, technology and abilities to put people on the moon, we can’t even know the accurate meanings of Eastern Oklahoma slang from just over a hundred years ago! So, what are the chances that we know perfectly what King Solomon meant in the sections of the book of Proverbs that are ascribed to his authorship? We may very well be able to read the words just fine, but can we 100% percent guarantee we know the meaning in every case? I think that any honest student of Scripture would have to say we cannot.
Yet, many "Christian experts" know the truth because this teaching is just so clear and plain in Scripture. Well, is it! Any interested party is welcome to get a free copy of my book [download it here for free: http://whynottrainachild.com/2013/06/22/download-martins-book/]on this issue [Book titled: Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy] because I don't think this teaching is as clear and plain as many would have you believe!
Things that on the surface seem so clear and plain may not be that way at all. That is what I learned when I began to study the issue of “sparing the rod” that King Solomon is so well known for and which is looked on still as timeless conventional wisdom that continues to significantly influence Christian thinking today about rearing children.
I have come to completely change my view on that subject based upon an intensive study and I came to see that “sparing the rod” is often not to be understood literally, but we have evidence that it can mean actions taken by parents to correct or guide their children which ancient commentators have referred to pointing to things like verbal correction, not necessarily hitting always the children with a physical rod. This is a big argument and requires lots of thinking and consideration to appreciate what the Bible is saying and it for this reason that I am giving away my book without cost to ensure that as many who are interested have a chance to carefully consider this issue and evaluate for themselves what the Bible means.
In fact, I have references to a third century Christian pedagogical text written no more than 250 miles from Jerusalem which says exactly that. I can also point to religious opinions given by famous Rabbis who echo the same idea.
These, of course, are only a few of scores of examples that could be used, but I think it demonstrates of how careful we need to be with Scripture in particular. Jesus said as recorded in the Gospel of John: “Your Word is Truth.” (John 17:17) Certainly, I think those of us who believe these words would strive to also know the “true meaning” about the Word.
Another final modern example to help put this whole matter into perspective (and one that gets back closer to the time of Solomon in fact) was featured recently in a news report from Jerusalem.
A friend of mine is an archaeologist here in Jerusalem. His name is Dr. Shimon Gibson. He and another friend, Dr. James Tabor, a couple of years ago uncovered an amazing discovery from an excavation they are leading here in Jerusalem: an ancient Aramaic inscription. Here is the story:
“A unique Aramaic inscription on a stone cup commonly used for ritual purity during the first century has been uncovered in a dig on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, an archeologist said Wednesday. … The six-week excavation is being carried out within the Gan Sobev Homot Yerushalayim national park, close to the Zion Gate of the Old City. … The 10-line Aramaic script, which is clear but cryptic, is being deciphered by a team of epigraphic experts in an effort to determine the meaning of the text, said Prof. Shimon Gibson, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who is co-directing the excavation. … "This is a difficult script, not one that is worn or graded, which demands research," Gibson said. … He estimated that it would take a couple of months to determine what the inscription says. … "It is like digging out grandparents' hand-written letters," he quipped. … Gibson said the find uncovered two weeks ago was rare because few inscriptions from the Second Temple Period had been discovered in Jerusalem.”
Note this exceedingly important reference to this ancient written inscription. Note the following:
· The 10 line Aramaic script is clear as far as reading it and the words used
· The meaning is cryptic
· A team of experts has been assembled to determine the meaning of the text
· The team of experts assembled represent the top scholars in the world concerning the interpretation of ancient Aramaic texts
· It is a difficult script
· It could take months (or perhaps longer) to determine what the script means
· Finally, Dr. Gibson hits the nail on the head concerning developing a proper understanding of this ancient inscription saying: “It is like digging out grandparents’ hand-written letters.”
In fact, this team of experts may never find out what this script means! They know what the individual words say, but they cannot be certain they understand the text in its original context and cultural environment. Dr. Gibson is right. It is indeed like digging out our grandparents hand written letters and in fact, we can barely even understand them (be they even only a hundred or so years old as I have here illustrated) without some accurate interpretation.
The point to this whole discussion (and is especially relevant when it comes to the Bible) is this and it is found in II Timothy 2:15. “Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Understand that knowing the meaning that God has placed on His Word requires study and even revelation. This means get some books to help you understand that book of books. Read some alternate opinions. Remember and apply that great rabbinical saying: “One who repeats his lesson 100 times is not like one who repeats his lesson 101 times.” (Babylonian Talmud – Chag. 9b) Stretch out of your comfort zone and explore new areas and ideas. Question what you believe to be correct. You may be surprised that you might uncover some treasure which in fact is hidden in plain sight in that good old book, The Holy Bible and you will know where it is coming from!