Reading the Bible is a little like being jettisoned to the other side of the globe. We find ourselves where they speak strange languages, tell jokes that go over our heads, celebrate strange customs, and basically leave us feeling lost and bewildered a big chunk of the time.
Welcome to Bible 101. It’s a good, healthy place to begin.
Two thousand years separate us from the writing of the last few books of the Bible. Most of us live in cultures extremely different from those of the desert Bedouin, the eastern monarchs, the Jerusalem rabbis, as well as the citizens of Rome and Corinth. We not only have much to learn; we don’t even come close to knowing how much we don’t know!
A confession of our wanton ignorance of the Bible is a helpful first step. In some ways, it’s even biblical. After all, that poet who penned the 1065-word psalm, which talks non-stop about God’s word, still prayed that the Lord would “open his eyes” to behold wonderful things in that Word (Psalm 119:18). Without divine intervention, he too was blind concerning the very Word about which he was singing. Moreover, he wraps it all up by admitting he’s basically a dumb sheep who gets lost all the time.
Now that’s humility. And some humble pie of which we could all eat a slice or two.
Speaking of eating, there’s a subject which is a prime example of our cultural, linguistic, and religious separations from the world of the OT and NT. Let’s talk, then, for a just a moment about what the Bible says about eating in general, and blessedly fat waistlines in particular.
SING HALLELUJAH AND TRASH THE KALE
If the Song of Songs were written in 21st century America, the midsection of the lover of Solomon might be described this way, “Your waist is the size of an Olympic athlete who sweats out 500 crunches a day; your abs are like a washboard, the eye candy of Instagram.” Something like that. Or something equally awful.
But Solomon sees things quite differently. He sings as a master of eastern romantic poetry. When he paints the portrait of his Lover, he says this: “Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies” (7:2). Take a moment and picture that anti-modern image.
The waist of the king’s beautiful, idyllically shaped lover is not flat. Not skinny. Certainly not ripped. She doesn’t wear size 0, 1, or 2. That, to him, would be unattractive and unhealthy. No, her stomach is pleasantly plump, like a rounded goblet, a mound of wheat. Judged by the standards of the CDC, she needs to lay off the chocolate and hit the treadmill.
But not for King Solomon. No, his ideal beauty has some meat on her bones.
As Christopher Mitchell points out, “Modern Western culture values thinness, particularly of the stomach and abdomen, but the cultural value in the ancient Near East was a plump stomach, indicating ample food and leisure,” (Song of Songs, 932). It remains the same in some cultures still today. Lois Tverberg, for instance, recounts how one Ugandan woman surprised some visiting American women by recounting all her past tribulations and then patting her full belly in thanksgiving as she shouted, “And…God…has…made…me…fat!” (Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, 32).
I imagine few, if any, pastors in America have been asked to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for someone who’s put on a few pounds.
In the biblical world, having a few extra inches on your waistline was not a reason for dieting but dancing. Think about it. When you live in a historical epoch when famines aren’t something you see on TV but in your own fields; when rain isn’t an inconvenience that slows down your commute but God-given moisture for the soil from which your future meals will come—in that kind of culture a few extra pounds is a good reason to sing Hallelujah, not eat kale.
In the biblical world, having a few extra inches on your waistline was not a reason for dieting but dancing.
NO BIBLE BEACH BODIES
Perhaps, the next time you step on the scale, and see that you’ve packed on a few pounds, rather than scowling, rather than beating yourself up, rather than thinking you’re somehow not measuring up to some standard, you’ll smile.
You’ll smile and thank God that you’ve got food on your table to eat. You’ll smile and thank God that you’re not starving, that he’s taken care of you and your family, and that you have food to share with those who actually are in need.
There are no beach bodies in the Bible. There are no diets. There are no legalisms about body type. Indeed, there is rejoicing over those who have enough to eat—and it shows in their waistline. There is food that a good and gracious God gives to enjoy, to relish, to share with others, not to feel guilty about. Are there fasts? Yes, of course, but even when there are, they’re relatively brief and always a preparation for the delightful, guilt-free feast to come.
There are no beach bodies in the Bible.
So, eat from your good God’s table and drink from his cup. Be merry and rejoice. Laugh, dance, and sing. Party like a Hobbit—and have a second breakfast, too. And, ladies, should some finger-wagging legalist come along who tries to body-shame you into cultural physical compliance, just laugh and point out that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, sang praises over a woman who’d never be chosen for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s “Swimsuit Issue.”
See you at the dessert table.