‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8).’
Can we picture in our mind the famous oil painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer entitled the Monarch of the Glen? If you are not familiar with *it, try to imagine a magnificent twelve pointer, royal stag, standing motionless upon a bracken covered knoll overlooking a Scottish glen. Acutely alert, the animal partially lifts his head and sniffs the moist air for scents. A morning mist rises from the vale below, and lively shower clouds partially mask craggy mountain peaks beyond. This splendid creature has the poise of a monarch surveying his domain. Without a doubt his stance is truly regal, but there’s not a hint of pride or haughtiness in him. Instead, his demeanour is that of a king who is both honourable and true. There’s nothing cowardly about him. On the contrary, he is strong, courageous and resolute.
My interpretation of Landseer’s masterpiece presents an image of a good and caring king who is of noble character.
The concept of nobility hearkens back to the times of the Crusader knights who fought for what they believed to be a righteous cause, i.e., the ousting of the followers of Islam from their occupation of the Holy Land. They were convinced they could accomplish this by inflicting upon them acts of violence and of murder. Today, this is called genocide.
Bound by a code of chivalry to defend the weak, the poor, widows and orphans, they set about their mission to slaughter the muslim menfolk, but time and again they failed to defeat their enemy. It was no wonder, because their barbarous acts were a complete contradiction to their avowed allegiance to Christ. They had what they believed to be noble aspirations, but they were deeply flawed and misguided.
The truly noble are admirably upright and of excellent character. They always place others before themselves.
Noble and Nobles
The words noble and nobles are found in both the Old and New Testaments – more so in the former – but what is fascinating is the large number of Hebraic and Greek words that are translated into English as noble and nobles. This points to the inadequacy of the English words when it comes to expressing the concepts of the original writers of the Bible. To complicate the matter their meanings in the Hebrew or Greek texts change according to where they are placed within the framework of what is being expressed.
Now, why does this matter? Because we fail to appreciate the subtleties of meanings expressed by the writers. We can have a rough idea, but if we are to understand more fully what the authors wanted to communicate, we must examine and get to the root of the actual words in their original languages.
At this point, you might sigh, and confess you are not professor of biblical Hebrew and Greek, and even if you were, you might ask yourself how much you would miss if you didn’t make the effort?
Let’s look at a couple of texts to judge for ourselves. Take for example:
Exodus 24:11 ‘But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.’ [The meaning here is chief men.]
Judges 5:13 ‘“Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles; The LORD came down for me against the mighty.”’ [These are powerful men of excellence; they are gallant and glorious.]
There are loads of other texts featuring the word nobles, but I’ll spare you from them. Instead I’ll set out some of their meanings:
Nobles can be people of high rank, pure and white; powerful, famous and worthy; chief princes; honourable captains; magnificent grandees, gallant warriors, and people of repute and renown.
In the New Testament we have the word nobleman:
Luke 19:12 ‘Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.’ [This describes a person who was well-born and of high rank.]
John 4:49 ‘The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”’ [This person is a regal, preeminent citizen.]
We also have the word noble:
Acts 26:25 ‘But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.’ [The adjective describes Festus as being: strong, honourable and excellent.]
1 Corinthians 1:26 ‘For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.’ (Here the word means: well born, and of high rank; those who are generous.]
James 2:7 ‘Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?’ [This describes Jesus as being: virtuous, distinguished, fair, goodly and honest.]
Philippians 4:8 ‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.’ [Here it means: venerable, honourable and honest.]
If you are to get the most out of your Bible, you should go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41) and get hold of an online **app that gives you the meanings of the original biblical words. You won’t regret it, for God’s Word will enrich your fellowship with Him and with His people.
*The Monarch of the Glen Painting
**Greek Interlinear Bible
**Hebrew Interlinear Bible