We’d gone to a production in the school hall. A well-known playwright from the big city had directed it, but imagine our delight when we saw that he’d cast our next-door neighbour perfectly… as herself! Idiosyncrasies that we saw daily, were all displayed on stage. Her little-girl voice, short stature, and animated mannerisms made us grin knowingly at each other throughout the performance. For us, she was the main character!
Recalling this experience from years past, I was reminded of a criticism I’d read long before that there is no humour in the Bible. I thought, there’s more than one reason for humour. But for me, its main purpose is to cheer us up; to lighten the conversation.
Of course, it depends on your personal type of humour. If your funny-bone isn’t linked to a well-tuned imagination, you won’t see the comical side to any Bible stories. If you tend not to laugh out loud, as many children do, you won’t giggle at the behaviour of people in the scriptures. There’s comic-relief, dialogue, and delight, but the ones I prefer, happen when I least expect them. For instance, I think Peter’s words, It’s only nine o’clock in the morning, are funny – Acts 2 : 15. The sense of the ridiculous is integral to the humour.
We can also take ourselves too seriously. In 1 Corinthians 12:15-21, Paul may not have made a classic joke, but I think he wrote with a humorous touch by using ‘talking’ body parts to explain God’s plan for each gift of the Holy Spirit. You may insist, ‘It’s a serious subject’, but humour makes it more memorable for me.
One of my favourites is in Judges 3:12–30 about Ehud, the left-handed Israelite who killed the king of Moab in a sleight-of-hand manoeuvre, then disappeared…after locking the doors. When the king’s servants couldn’t gain entrance to their master’s rooms, they thought he was ‘relieving himself’. To me, that’s humorous. Already knowing the background facts brings us right into the situation, and that’s one reason why humour works. Explaining it ruins the fun.
Don’t say Balaam’s talking donkey isn’t hilarious – Numbers 22:22-3 – and it’s even funnier when his master talks back to him! David said that ‘God laughs at the wicked’ – Ps 2: 4, and how about old Sarah laughing at the words of an ‘angel?’ – Genesis 18:10-12.
When the Jews were regaling their children with stories about their ancestor Judah, they might have said, ‘You should have seen his face when his sin was discovered!’ By then the children would know the story well, and would always delight in Judah’s look of horror at his well-deserved exposure – see Genesis 38. We can become so accustomed to these Biblical dramas that their humour is lost on us.
Jesus told the Jews that they couldn’t add to their height by looking in the mirror! We can read that and allow it to ‘pass through to the keeper’, but using our imagination, how ridiculous it is! Try it some time when you’re feeling short, even short-changed! King Solomon of Israel also wrote that a cheerful heart does good like medicine ~ Proverbs 17:22 – The Living Bible.
Here’s another ‘relieving-himself incident’ when Elijah mocked the dancing prophets of Baal – 1 Kings 18: 22-46. He also suggested their god might be daydreaming, or on a holiday. That must have infuriated them, but the crowd of Israelites would have loved it!
I believe God wants us to utilise the sense of humour he’s given us, but carefully. He doesn’t want cruel jokes that hurt others. He expects us to:
Say only what helps, each word a gift… and to be gentle with one another ~
Ephesians 4 : 29-32 – The Message Bible.