Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth. Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings
Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended. Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy. A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels. It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny. In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth. The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion. In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain. And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.
Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles. Life is cyclical, not linear. What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again. Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world. And it is quite biblical. As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)
Is there anything more ridiculous among beasts of burden than a donkey? They are hardly the picture of a noble animal. On the contrary, they are loud, obnoxious, stubborn, homely (not exactly ugly, but certainly not beautiful), and they smell bad. It is no coincidence that William Shakespeare places a donkey’s head on the foolishly self-confident Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neither is it a coincidence that in The Adventures of Pinocchio Carlo Collodi chose to transform foolish boys into donkeys. Walt Disney offered a simple explanation of this process in his 1940 film version of Pinocchio: “Give a bad boy enough rope, and he’ll soon make a jackass of himself.” And then there is the companion of the ogre Shrek: the carefree, friendly, and unbearably annoying Donkey, brought to life by the vocal talents of Eddie Murphy. In the second film of the Shrek series Donkey is changed into a white stallion, but the change is only outward. Inside he is still the same Donkey: kindhearted, loyal, and eager to please, but seldom aware of the chaos that follows him at every step.
With such a pedigree it is a wonder that donkeys receive favorable attention in Scripture. In fact, the lowly donkey and the lamb are the only animals mentioned by name in God’s instructions on how to remember the Exodus.
We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect. This should not be a surprise. YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him. What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart. When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years. He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
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One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. His story is in Judges 13-16. It begins like this:
Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)
Let us step back a bit and consider why the Creator of the Universe would allow this people He has chosen to languish in exile for a seemingly indeterminate period of time. Better yet, let us consider why the Creator created the people on this earth in the first place. Judging from the numerous references in Scripture about God taking a bride it would seem that He is seeking a co-regent to help Him run the universe. At the very least, the Bride of our King has a destiny to have dominion over the earth. That, after all, was the first instruction YHVH gave to our ancestors in His Garden. Beyond that, there is very little to tell us what He really wants. We know quite a bit about this seven thousand year experiment called human history, both how it has unfolded in the six millennia that have preceded us, and how it is to take shape in the last millennium under Messiah’s direct rule. But then comes eternity, with a new heavens and a new earth. What would God want us to do in eternity? Sit around and play harps, stuffing our mouths with whatever tastes good and with no fear of consequences? Probably not.