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Perfected Beauty

Throughout all the ages, beauty was devoutly pursued and sought after. All civilizations and ethnic people groups have their own different outlooks and definitions of what beauty should be. This ceaseless quest for beauty was enshrined in the hearts of both men and women since the days of Genesis. Vanity was the name of the game. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are its driving forces.

God makes all things beautiful in His time. And all things include mankind. God is not against beauty. He desires to transform us to become more like Him - from glory to glory, from faith to faith and from strength to strength. All of us are created in His image. But man is seeking another image – an image of a god or goddess, which is not ordained by God.

The Hebraic and Biblical perspective of beauty is uniquely different from all other religious and philosophical worldviews. The realization of the eternal creates the Hebraic sense of beauty. Vanity is understood as the charm of the moment but godly virtues withstand the test of time.

What are some distinctive characteristics of the Hebraic definition and conceptualization of beauty? To answer these, we have to look into the Bible. In Lev 23:40, the Torah requires the four species of plants to be used for the Feast of Tabernacles:

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days."

The fruit of beautiful trees is the etrog or the citron. It is a yellow citrus fruit about the same size as a lemon. But it is much sweeter. The Hebraic word for fruit is hadar. It means "dwelling continuously all year on the tree." It implies permanence, a continuous process through time. The etrog tree fulfils this requirement of consistent dwelling and abiding.

Most other fruits are seasonal. But the etrog grows, blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons - in the hottest summers and in the coldest winters, through the storms, wind and snow! It stubbornly persists, enduring through all the seasons and hardships of its life! Through it all, it bears fruits abundantly! It is illustrated in Psalm 1:3:

"He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper."

That’s why the Jews view this etrog tree as beautiful.

Beauty, in Hebrew mindsets, means the power of life and its determination to live on despite all difficulties. It is the affirmation of the victory of life over death and the pursuit for eternity.

With this same light, we can understand another Torah in Lev 19:32:

"You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD."

The Hebraic phrase for "honor the presence of an old man" is ve'hadarta p'nei zakein. More correctly, it should be translated as "honor the face of the old person." The word hadar means beauty. This verse is actually telling us is to ascribe beauty to the face of an old person. What is so beautiful about an old face?

This very idea contradicts the very basic attitudes of the Western worldviews. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, beauty has always been associated with youth. In the contemporary Western world, the entire cosmetic industry is predicated on making people to appear younger in order to look beautiful. This attempt is definitely aimed to exalt the young and despise the old.

Yet the Word of God ascribes beauty to the old face. This Hebraic worldview of beauty expresses the comeliness of an overcoming life! A life that has endured and persisted throughout the arduous passage of time. It has come forth victoriously and triumphantly. In the old face, we see great determination, courage and will to live! We also see Christ being perfected in the person. They have fought a good fight of faith and they have won. They have overcome all their trials and temptations!

The Bible requires us to see these aging persons in a very different light. They are not fading away into oblivion. We have to recognize the treasures within them - a precious surge to live and a yearning of the immortal soul to pursue eternity.

Beauty in the Hebraic worldview is not a value to be misunderstood. It is not an attempt, as in other aesthetic systems, to merely capture the moment, to glorify youth, and the vain efforts to preserve it for all time. Beauty in true Biblical sense is the tangible experience of apprehending the eternal in the flow of passing time. Most of the houses in Jerusalem are built using limestone. This building material is excellent to withstand all the wear and tear of weather and time. Even after thousands of years, they are still standing today. These ancient stones and rocks are also beautiful to behold.

Another example of beauty is found in the menorah, the seven-branched golden lampstand. This item is central in the service of the Holy Temple. It has become a symbol of the Jewish people itself. It represents an eternal light burning continuously.

In Exodus 27:20-21, the Torah reads:

"And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel."

The olive tree is a true symbol of the nation Israel. In Jeremiah 11:16, the LORD called Israel by this name, "Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit." What is so special about the olive tree to describe Israel unmistakably? The answer is that Israel has many unique characteristic traits very similar to those of the olive tree.

The olive is beaten, pressed, ground down before it can produce the pure oil required to give the glowing light on the menorah. Likewise, the people of Israel have gone through many exiles, oppressions, persecutions, holocaust and injustice, yet they are not destroyed. On the contrary, they continue to shine on magnificently. The olive depicts not only the dauntless character of Israel's persistence in the face of every hardship but also her beauty shining forth as she comes out of them!

In Revelation 11:3-4, we read:

"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth."

This is the same revelation given to the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 4. He saw a menorah surrounded by two olive trees. This prophecy came after the destruction of the First Temple and on the threshold of the building of the Second Temple. It clearly affirmed that despite her defeats and destructions, Israel would continue to flourish and shine for her God!

There are two olive trees. If one is Israel, the other must be the Church. We too need to shine forth the glorious light of our Saviour and Lord. I believe the Church is now going through her Refiner's Fire.

The Apostle Paul exhorted us in 2 Cor 4:6-12:

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you."

God desire to perfect and complete the beauty in us so that we would become His sons. He will make all things beautiful in His time. There is a passage of time involved! It is a journey throughout a lifetime and not just a momentary transformation. Many of us seek instant gratification instead of going through the process of refining, renewing and restoration. We seek the temporary instead of the eternal. Till we come to our senses, the momentary beauty in us will fade into obscurity.

But God forbids. His Bride will be glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. She will be holy and without blemish. Both Israel and the Church, the perfected Bride of God, will shine forth purer and brighter!