Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.
The Debate About Humor and Laughter in the Bible
Some would say laughter and humor are not in the Bible because it is God's Word and holy. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in his book Sermon on the Mount that Jesus never laughed because it was not recorded; that His ministry, mission, and the message were too serious for the Savior to be joking around and laughing. Just because it wasn't recorded does not mean Christ did not experience and enjoy light-hearted moments. I always see him around the campfire in the evenings with the disciples with a little friendly teasing or reflecting on a humorous situation or person they'd observed that day. Could and did Jesus play with the children without joy and laughter?
Christ also used the humor of irony and the absurdity of human thinking and behavior to make a point with more impact. He did not use humor to get a laugh just for the sake of making people laugh. His purpose was to present the truth in such a way that people would "get it" best.
Laughter and humor are given to us by God, meant to be used and enjoyed in the appropriate time and manner. Laughter can be an expression of joy and gladness, or amusement with people, places, and things. Laughter or humor that is approved in the Bible is always reverent.
Psalm 126 tells the story of the Israelites returning to Zion after seventy years of captivity in Babylon- "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy." In contrast, we read in Psalm 137 the story of when they were being led away to captivity. They were utterly bereft to be leaving their homeland for what they felt would be forever: "By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion."
Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance."
Some stories are not funny as in hilarious, but funny odd, or strange. I rather love odd and strange. God creates odd and strange things in His creation. But human behavior can be odd too.
My purpose is not to mock, scorn, or deride the Word of God, or Christ, who is the Word. But simply to appreciate the humorous presentation of truths, and the observation of the foibles of man, and the odd circumstances that come about in people and life.
So here I will share stories and verses, both Old and New Testament, that are quirky, humorous and/or amusing. Hope you enjoy!
Knock Knock, Who's There?
Acts 12 is a powerful story, but I have to say, there are some very comedic moments. We get the backdrop for this story in verses 1 - 4 which tell us that Herod had recently been on a rampage, and the Apostle James had been killed by the sword of Herod. This murder so pleased the people that Herod decided throwing Peter in prison would really make them appreciate him. But he didn't just throw him into a cell like any other prisoner, he assigned four squads of soldiers to keep watch over him until after passover when it would then be acceptable to the Jews to deal with Peter properly.
The fact that James had been martyred had of course shaken this early Church up pretty bad. No longer were they secure in their freedom to worship. Following Jesus could cost them their lives. When they heard about Peter being imprisoned, verse 5 tells us "But constant prayer was offered up for him by the Church." This wasn't a brief little fifteen or even sixty minute prayer meeting. No, it was constant prayer, earnest, diligent, agonizing prayer.
While this prayer was going up, five funny things happened:
1. The Angel of the Lord appeared in Peter's cell. Peter was so dead to the world that the Angel of the Lord had to whack him on the side, and raise him up to the standing position. I can almost see the Angel of the Lord shaking him saying, "C'mon Peter, wake up here. Peter! Wake up and get dressed." Peter wiped the sleep from his eyes and put on his clothes. It gets funnier.
2. Peter was still so half asleep, that he wasn't sure whether he was dreaming, having a vision, or if it was really all happening. The Angel of the Lord lead him past all the sets of guards, supernaturally unseen, and the iron gate opened of it's own accord - just like our modern stores and office buildings with automatic doors, only this was no electronic wonder, but the power of God. As soon as they were out on the street, Peter was on his own, as the Angel left him standing there.
3. The Bible says "And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me..." It took that long for him to figure out something supernatural had just happened and that guy dragging him out the prison doors was the Angel of the Lord Himself?
Isn't it interesting that Peter could sleep so soundly at a time like that. I mean his dear friend James had just met a violent demise by the hands of Herod. And there was no question Herod had plans for Peter after passover. And yet, Peter slept like a baby. Kind of reminiscent of the time Jesus was asleep in the bow of the boat during a life-threatening storm.
4. Now we have the knock knock incident. Peter made his way, undisturbed, back to where his friends were fervently and continuously praying for his protection and release. He knocked on the door of the gate. The servant girl, Rhoda, came to answer and was so excited to see him, she just left him there with the gate still closed, to go tell the others he was there. Can you imagine? After all the hours of being imprisoned under the circumstances of recent events, he finally made it home, and he got the door slammed in his face by an excited servant girl.
Hmm, this is a dilemma. So he just kept knocking, and knocking. Meanwhile, Rhoda told everyone with effervescent joy and excitement, "Peter's here. Peter's here. He's at the gate."
5. They told her she was crazy. "No way. You're off your rocker." God was answering their prayers but they wouldn't believe it when it happened. But she was insistent so they finally went to see for themselves. Sure enough, there he was, and he told them his story.
The Lesson: While the story has some funny moments, the story is one that teaches us the power of prayer and that God can work in seemingly impossible situations. It encourages us to remember God's faithfulness in desperate times.
Don't Mess With Bald Prophets
Here is a rather odd story we find in 2 Kings 2:23-24.
The prophet Elisha, protégé of the late prophet Elijah, was walking down the road to Bethel, minding his own business, when a group of hoodlums gathered nearby and started mocking him about his baldness. This was not just a group of three, five, or even ten youths - there were forty-two.
"Go up, you bald head. Go up you bald head," they mocked.
Being a prophet of God, one would think he would have called down fire from heaven or have them properly stoned. But his creative mind made up for his lack of hair. He called down a curse, a likely thing for a prophet to do; however the unusual curse was calling in two angry, female bears who proceeded to take on all forty-two young rabble-rousing youths and mauled every last one of them. This story is not funny but odd.
The Lesson: The young men were not just mocking Elisha for being bald, they were cursing God's anointed prophet. When they said "Go up" they were most likely referring to Elijah's rapture to heaven, which happened just before Elisha made this journey. They were in effect telling Elisha to follow his mentor and up to heaven as a sign for such a miracle, but mocking him to do what Elijah did feeling he was not powerful enough. In doing so they were also deriding God. So many times in the Bible God's prophets were killed and God was not going to tolerate these young ones mockery of His man of God.
David and Saul in the Men's Room
The first time I read this I laughed out loud. I was actually kind of surprised to find it. But humans do funny things, and the story serves a purpose, in a creative sort of way.
In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men had found refuge from Saul's pursuit to kill him in the oasis of En Gedi. David and his men were camping out in the deep recesses of a cave. Unaware of this, King Saul just happened to step into that very cave to relieve himself.
At the back of the cave, David's men were saying, "David, this is your chance. The Lord is giving you an opportunity to avenge yourself." Rather than slay the king, David snuck up close and unnoticed cut off a corner of Saul's royal robe while Saul was relieving himself.
The Lesson: It soon came about that David was stricken with guilt for doing this improper thing against the Lord's anointed. Humor aside, this is telling of David's reverence for God, and whom God has put in authority. Although David knew that King Saul was not in God's favor because of his wicked ways, David respected the fact that until God chose to take Saul out of commission, he was still the anointed king of Israel, put into power by God Himself. Thus we have a very guilt-ridden fugitive, David, the man after God's own heart.
David chewed out his men and forbid them from harming Saul. But the story doesn't stop there. When Saul was out of the cave David stepped out and called after him. Saul turned around to find David lying prostrate in reverence to his majesty the king. He asked Saul, "Why do you believe I'm trying to harm you. It's a lie." Then he held up the evidence, the piece of the robe he'd cut off while Saul was using the facilities. "See this Saul? I cut this off your robe when you were in the cave. I could have killed you then, as some encouraged me to do. But I would not dare to kill the Lord's anointed. Nonetheless, God will judge you and avenge me, but it will not be by my hand."
Saul, the macho, egotistical, self-willed-run-riot, king of Israel, burst into tears. He declared that David was surely righteous, and conceded that David would one day take over the throne. What an unconventional and humorous turn of events in the continuing saga of Saul's efforts to take David out. This is another example of reverencing God by not hurting one he called to be his anointed, regardless of their sin.
A Talking Donkey
Sometimes we swear our pets are more intelligent than scientists give them credit for. And once in a while, you find a dog on Youtube or America's Funniest Home Videos that makes sounds of words. Ruff ruff or bow wow sound like "I wuv you." But it's not the real deal and we all know it. But believe it or not, God commissioned a donkey to put an erring prophet in his place.
To set the stage for this unusual and humorous story, we read in Numbers 22:1-20 about Balak, king of Moab, and his people quaking in their boots because they heard that Israel kicked the derrières of the Amorites. They looked out over the land and saw the innumerable Israelites camping all over the desert floor. Though Israel had not threatened them, they were so in fear that they sent a message to a non-Israelite prophet, a diviner actually, named Balaam, who was hanging out at home near the river Euphrates. Basically, Balak asked Balaam to call down a curse on the Israelites so that he could get the upper hand and destroy them.
God came to Balaam and told him absolutely do not curse the Israelites, for they are a people blessed by God. Balaam told Balak's messengers, "Go home, God told me not to go with you."
Balak sent some high ranking officials to impress Balaam and entice him with a bribe. Balaam told them no again, but to wait in camp so he could inquire of the Lord some more. God told Balaam "You can go with them but don't do anything until or unless I tell you to."
Enter, Balaam's donkey, God's donkey. Balaam packed him all up and took off with the Moabite officials. God was angry about this so the Angel of the Lord blocked the road. The problem was the only one who could see the Angel of the Lord was the Donkey. He saw the flaming sword and swerved off the road into a field and got beaten for it by Balaam and guided back up to the road.
The Angel of the Lord appeared again to the donkey as the road narrowed between two walls. The donkey kept going but crushed Balaam's foot against the wall. This was followed by another beating.
This happened yet again, only this time, the road was too narrow to pass through so the donkey just sat down. Enraged, out came a staff and Balaam gave him another, harsher beating.
Verse 28 says "The Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak." The donkey did not say, "Hello, my name is Mr. Ed," but rather, "What's up with the three beatings?"
What's even funnier is that we don't read that Baalam jumped back aghast that a donkey would speak. He just got cranky and said, "You made a fool out of me, and if I had a sword, I'd kill you."
Then it turned into a full-fledged conversation.
Donkey: I've been your donkey all your life. Have I ever done this before, now, have I, hmm?"
Balaam: Well, no.
God suddenly opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the road. He bowed down to the ground. The Angel of the Lord proceeded to chastise him.
Angel of the Lord: Why did you beat your donkey three times? I blocked your way because you were stubbornly resisting me. The donkey shied because he saw me; if he hadn't I'd have killed you but spared your donkey.
Balaam: I've sinned. I didn't realize you were there blocking the way. I'll go home if that's what you want.
Angel of the Lord: Go with these men, but only speak what I tell you to.
The Lesson: Balaa was a rebellious pagan prophet. God allowed him to go the Balak, but Balaam's intention was to speak for himself, not for God. God was speaking through the donkey. When he saw the Angel of the Lord he finally listened and was willing to obey God's command to speak His message.
You Want Meat? I'll Give You Meat
God did amazing things for the children of Israel as they left Egypt and headed to the promised land, with Moses as their leader. God parted an ocean so the people could cross on the dry ground, and drown the enemy when they tried to come after them. He gave them water when they were thirsty, he gave them manna to eat every morning faithfully, their day's food was on the ground waiting for them to take and eat.
As we all the know, the children of Israel were experts in complaining, accusing and threatening Moses unjustly, and offending the Lord. In Exodus 11, after God provided them with water and manna daily to eat, they got sick of it and wept and whined. There wasn't enough variety on the menu, you see. All of a sudden their memory of their lives in Egypt became distorted. "We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic." So they began to weep and beg for meat. So God said, "You want meat? I'll give you meat." Actually, the text says "Therefore, the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you" (vs. 19-20).
God was true to His word, for lo and behold, He sent a wind, carrying the quail around the perimeter of the camp, a mile's journey each way. The quail gathered 2 cubits above the surface of the ground (roughly 36 inches). The people were in quail ecstasy and so greedy they stayed up all that day, all night and all the next day and gathering the quail and laid them out and ate them, many ate them raw.
The Lesson: The humor (strangeness) stops there, though, as God sent a plague to those who craved and were so greedy and many died. Tragic. We can learn from this lesson to be content and grateful to God for what he provides.
The Interminable Sermon
No one cannot read the story of Eutychus and not guffaw a bit. It was evening, and Paul had been preaching and teaching for a mighty long time. It was probably a warm night with no air conditioning. The room was full to capacity with eager students and fellow missionaries. The only place Eutychus found to sit was in a big window. Keep in mind that in those days, windows didn't have glass panes. He may have been there also to catch the breeze and some fresh air. Considering what happened next, it's not unlikely that Eutychus was sitting in the window to keep from falling asleep. But it didn't work. Eutychus nodded off during Paul's eternal sermon and fell right out the window and died.
Good heavens. There was quite a commotion because we read that Paul ran down there, prayed for him, and Eutychus was resurrected back to life. The next thing that happens is so hilarious that I am sure we can all think of a preacher or two we've met who would do what Paul did next. He went back upstairs and continued his sermon until dawn.
The Lesson: Some would say the lesson is for the preacher to keep his message shorter, or that Eutychus was sinful for falling asleep during Paul's sermon and teaching. I think those arguments are shallow and miss the whole point. Eutychus died from that fall and Paul, full of faith in God's ability to raise the dead, put his faith in action and prayed for the man to come back to life. Paul's faith was strong, and God has the power to raise the dead.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot
In Mark 9:2-8 Jesus took the inner three (Peter, James, and John) up on a high mountain apart by themselves. They stood there and watched from a distance Jesus turn a brilliant white light, transfigured, and then joined by none other than Moses and Elijah. Transfigured in the greek means "transformed" (Strong's 3339). He manifested His glory by being transformed into bright light. As Moses, Elijah and Jesus were discussing Christ's imminent death, Peter opened his mouth and said something really stupid,
"Rabbi, It is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles (tents): one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Mark 9:5). Huh? Verse six humorously explains that Peter said this because he didn't know what else to say. Now I ask, would make shelters for them have any purpose or value? Verse seven says while Peter was still talking a cloud came over them and God spoke, "This is my beloved Son, Hear Him" The Matthew account says that when this happened they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
In The Lesson: In his book The Crisis of the Cross, G. Campbell Morgan explains Peter's great error in suggesting making booths, "Yet now he [Peter] suggests making a tabernacle for Jesus, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah, thus putting his Master upon the same level with these men of the past." Sometimes we do this without realizing it. In fact, often times it is thought, even by believers, that the devil is equal in power to the Lord Jesus Christ. No one is God's equal. Though He was fully man He was also fully God.
The Endless Argument
I always found it quite amusing that the disciples were always disputing about who would be the greatest in God's kingdom. James and John and their mother, Mrs. Zebedee, had the nerve to ask Jesus one time if they could sit on his left and his right in His kingdom. Of course, this ticked off the others. There are several accounts of the disciples arguing over who was the greatest. Here is my favorite:
Mark 9:33 is the occasion that is a bit humorous in that the disciples were found out and chastised. After they arrived at Capernaum and settled into a house for the evening, Jesus asked His disciples, "'What were you discussing out on the road?" Gulp! What discussion? The rest of the verse says that they didn't answer because they'd been arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus had had this discussion with them before, so they knew their goose was cooked.
Picture the band of disciples walking down the road and the Master was either up ahead or behind somewhere, and they thought He was out of earshot. It is possible He was but as the Son of God, He always knew without hearing. Regardless, they thought they were unheard by the Master. This argument seemed to be becoming a habit. Jesus had told them before this was not appropriate. So when they arrived in a house to settle in for the evening, Jesus (paraphrased) said, "So what were you guys talking about out there?" I can just see them freeze in their tracks, perhaps looking down at their sandals, shuffling in shame, or perhaps giving sidelong glances at each other. Basically, they were adult men who were like children who had been caught red-handed with their hands in the cookie jar. Our Savior was so patient. He simply told them for the umpteenth time the first must be last and the last to be first.
Kind of amusing don't you think?
The Lesson: These stories are a very good example of human thinking, ego, and pride, but ultimately, the sovereignty of God. It is up to God to make the choice of who is the greatest among men. Man should be focused on Jesus's power and message, not who is His favorite person.
We Lost Jesus
The following story about Jesus holds great significance and gives insight into his spiritual and biblical understanding. But as a parent, I can't help but smile when I hear about the journey to Jerusalem Jesus made as a twelve-year-old boy. His first time, no less. They did the Passover, then it was time to go home. Mary and Joseph took off with a pack of people toward home without checking to make sure Jesus was in the line-up. They just assumed that their always obedient son was around somewhere in the line. So they walked a full days journey and suddenly realized they hadn't seen him since before they'd left. So they searched among the relatives and friends in the traveling pack and much to their distress, they could not find Him.
They turned around and went back to Jerusalem to search for Him. It took them a full three days to find Him. And they were none too happy with the Son of God. They found Him in the temple astounding the teachers with his divine insights. His parents ran up to Him and His mother said "Son, why have you done this to us? Look your father and I have sought you anxiously." In other words, 'Why have you behaved like this, don't you realize we've been worried sick and searching everywhere?"
Jesus' answer was "Why did you seek me? Didn't you know I was about My Father's business?" He seemed to expect them to realize it was the most logical thing in the world for Him to stay for four days in the temple teaching while they are searching for Him for days.
The Lesson: When Jesus said this to them, the Bible says "But they did not understand the statement which He spoke." It also says that Mary pondered this in her heart. She didn't understand it, but she knew it had some great significance. The Bible also tells us that He went home and was subject to his parents. This does not imply that He was disobedient when he remained in Jerusalem. He was there for His Father's business. One day Mary would put all the pieces of her ponderings together and realilze Jesus wasn't just her son, but the Son of God and her Savior.
The Tax Paying Fish
In Matthew 17: 24-27 Jesus and the disciples were in Capernaum and Peter was asked by someone taking in the Temple taxes if Jesus had paid his Temple taxes. Jesus said to Peter, " From whom do the kings take customs or taxes, from their sons or strangers?
Peter replied, "From strangers."
As the Son of God, Jesus could have been exempt from the tax, but said to Peter,
"Lest I offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."
That's strange funny.
The Lesson: Jesus showed everyone there that he had as much responsibility to obey the law as everyone else, as long as He was not required to sin. This is yet another story that shows Jesus' unusual methods to reveal Himself as God.
Three Lousy Doctors
Job probably suffered in many forms all at one time more than most people in history. He lost his wealth, his ten children, everything in one day. And his wife told him to curse God and die. Then he broke out with painful boils and a raging fever. After scraping them with pottery shards he was nearly unrecognizable. His three dear friends, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz heard of his plight and sought him out to comfort him. When they saw him they were overcome with grief for him. They sat for an entire week in silent suffering beside him. What friends! What pals! What love! It really is quite moving. But then they opened their mouths and it all went downhill from there. Thinking they were being good, helpful friends, one after the other took turns condemning Job. They were relentless.
Basically, Eliphaz told Job, "Only the innocent prosper, Job. You must have done something wrong."
Bildad said, "If you repent of your evil deeds, Job, He will restore all He took from you."
And Zophar threw Job under the bus saying Job deserved worse than what he got.
At one point in chapter 13, Job let them have it. His priceless sarcasm nailed them good:
"You, however, smear me with lies, you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent, for you that would be wisdom!" (vs.4-5).
He was saying "You worthless friends if you want to show wisdom, shut up." Pretty funny. Perhaps he was remembering when they first came to him and sat with him in silence.
The Lesson: The lesson was not just for them to quit accusing Job, but to recognize the suffering of their friend as a means to give him godly comfort. The common belief in their time was that if someone ran into misfortune it meant that they were in sin against God and it was their punishment. The ultimate lesson was they did not see that God had a purpose for Job's suffering. In the end, Job and his friends learned the glory and power of God. Job said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself and repent with dust in ashes" (42:5-6). Then to Eliphaz God said, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has." They were ordered to offer seven rams and seven bulls as a burnt offering and Job would pray for them and God did not give them their due (vs.7-8). God restored to Job all that he had before.
Humor Colors our World
The world would be colorless and drab without humor, laughter, oddities, absurdities, and ironies. The stories and verses mentioned above have a serious message, but the way they were presented can bring us a smile, or even a chuckle. In many instances, they make a more powerful impact than had it been presented another way. Jesus used irony brilliantly, and you can't deny that the power of the speck and the plank. Humor can be an effective teacher as well as anything.
© 2013 Lori Colbo