The Bible has a bit of the rep these days. It seems that depending on their starting point, people pick the platitudes or seek the smitings. But there is some real comedy gold in the scriptures, and I’m not referring to odd stories taken out of their context and mocked by cynical atheists. Here are my top five:
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? Ezekiel 34:1-3
5. God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel, warning the leaders of Israel and all of Israel in general that they have been greedy and oppressive, ignoring and abusing his flock. Read the whole chapter, it’s a beautiful and tender message. But, because people are stupid, God has to reinforce that even though He is using a metaphor and accusing them of not being shepherds, this still applies everyone… including actual shepherds. “Not shepherds?! Well, you can’t mean me Ezekiel! See the crook?”
Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it. 2 Kings 6:4-7
4. A bunch of hot-blooded young men feel their prophet dads are cramping their style, and go off to start their own camp (no doubt while they still knew everything). Elisha shows his humility along with extraordinarily modern leadership skills; he doesn’t slap them down and bring them under his patriarchal control, but supports their endeavour, going with them to help them set up.
We’re then party to this DIY slapstick scene, reminiscent of Laurel & Hardy, where an axe head being used by one of the young men falls off into the water. His instant reaction his priceless: “Alas… It was borrowed!” The first and only Yorkshireman in the Bible perhaps?
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:12-17
3. You’ve got to love Paul, especially when he gets carried away. He is desperate to explain how the gospel of Jesus is the central message, and people should not make petty, arbitrary divisions based on who baptised them. To emphasise the point he exclaims that he is glad he only baptised a couple of them, so hardly anyone can claim special treatment by association with him. But then a few more people spring to mind; the household of Stephanas. And then he decided that perhaps he could have baptised some other people too… But the point still stands, OK?!
Incidentally, get Chloe, leading her own church. Radical, counter-cultural faith. Go Chloe!
And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod… And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in youreyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.” 2 Samuel 6:14, 20-22
2. King David strips down to the bare minimum (in fact, arguably less than the bare minimum) and busts some moves in the street. Some easily offended ladies look on, but when some busybody tries to reprimand him for it, he essentially says, “this is between me and God. I don’t care what you think, and I’m going to go even further. So shove it.” Funny, but inspiring too.
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am-except for these chains.” Acts 26:24-29
1. We’re back with Paul, for one of my favourite excerpts of scripture. This is about the last we hear of Paul, as he moves on to Rome where he stays captive for two years and is executed when the emperor changes over. It is a favourite paragraph for many reasons; firstly, someone called “most excellent Festus”, straight out of Bill & Ted. Secondly, Festus’ charge that Paul’s great learning has driven him mad. I’m sure we all know someone who’s enthusiasm for a particular subject makes them seem a little unhinged. Thirdly, I love Paul’s optimism in the face of Agrippa’s scepticism.
But I laugh every time I am reminded of Paul’s honesty, surely stated with a wry smile on his face. He suffers trials so gladly but we get a glimpse of the old zealot’s vulnerable side here. He is not a masochist; all things being equal he would rather not be locked up. So he admits that yes, he wants the king to become a Christian. In fact he wants everyone to be as he is… only without the cuffs.
So there we have it, my Top 5 comedy moments. Many others could have been included: When Sarah gets caught giggling and pretends that she wasn’t, or when Paul slaps Peter down for being snooty. Feel free to add to this list in the comments section!