You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover

Well, maybe not...

A while back I received an email asking me what the Bible had to say about the old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover."


I am not even sure it is true. I know I have bought some record albums just because I liked the cover - and they turned out to be pretty good. Of course, that was back in the day when album covers were a foot square, and you could actually SEE them - remember those? You might see one at a garage sale every now and then - not these dinky little CD covers. Well, now you just download your music off the internet, and you don’t even GET a cover! What fun is that???!!!


I tried to think of some Bible verse along the lines of “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” (Oops! I keep wanting to put an apostrophe in there - but there isn’t an apostrophe in “its” since it isn’t “it is,” but the possessive, which is entirely confusing because the possessive is almost always indicated by an apostrophe 's.' Who invented this language anyway? Oh well... just a little free (and unwanted!) English lesson).

ANYWAY, I couldn’t think of any particular Bible verse like that. It certainly isn’t one of the commandments. Though it would fit right in with the one about coveting your neighbor’s wife. There is probably a little judging by the cover going on there!

But as I thought about it, it occurred to me that the Bible is FULL of examples of that piece of wisdom.

I just happened to be reading the story of David and Goliath. Goliath made the mistake of judging a book by its cover!

“What?! They send a boy out to do a MAN’S job?!” he roared, when David, a shepherd boy, showed up to fight him.

And then, SMACK! A stone right between the eyes, and the next thing he knows he is lying face first on the ground. I should say, the LAST thing he knows.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

There was much more to David than what first appeared - like, the God of the whole UNIVERSE standing behind him.

BIG mistake on Goliath’s part.

Then there is the story of the Walls of Jericho. I am sure the Jerichonians (or whoever it was, hiding behind those walls!) were just shaking in their boots when the people of Israel started walking around their fortress - PLAYING HORNS!

“Ooooo! I’m SCARED!”

And then, there was a trumpet blast, their mighty walls came tumbling down, and that was that!

Once again, things were not what they appeared.

I am sure there are bunches more stories from the Old Testament like that. I just can’t think of any just now.

But, that’s the way God likes to work. He does the unexpected. Things are hardly EVER the way they appear. When it looks like there is trouble all around, and there is no hope at all, when it looks like all is lost - that is just the time God has planned for our greatest victory.

Well, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. They were beaten down, they seemed to be without hope, without a chance of ever defeating the mighty Egyptians. And then Charlton Heston comes wandering in from the desert; this old guy with a long gray beard and bare feet (or maybe a pair of worn out sandals) - no wait, that wasn’t Charlton Heston - that was Moses!

But here comes this old guy, this old sheep herder, who has to have his brother speak for him - and he has come to set his people free... with a STICK.

I am sure Pharaoh was just shaking in his sandals.

But he made the mistake of judging a book by its cover.

Next thing he knows, he has frogs in his soup.

So, (eventually) he sets the Israelites free - and where does God lead them?

Into the desert.

“Oh, this is great!” the people grumbled to Moses. “You led us out of Egypt so we could STARVE TO DEATH in the desert!”

Now THEY were making the mistake of judging the book by its cover... a very hot, dusty book, and not very good for eating.

But God had other plans. He knew what he was doing (funny thing about God - he ALWAYS knows what he is doing). He knew that, if they just trusted in him, if they believed in his PROMISES - and not how things appeared - the Promised Land was waiting for them, a land flowing with milk and honey.

But, it is so easy to judge things by how they appear - and not by the promises of God.

That’s what they did in the New Testament too.

Things certainly were not what they appeared there!

I have heard this said about the disciples. They were a group of unimportant people, from an unimportant region, in an unimportant corner of the world. And yet, they turned the world upside down. Just think of it. They were nothing (or so it seemed!) in the world's eyes. They weren’t mighty warriors, or great philosophers, or powerful statesmen. They weren’t from Rome, or Athens, or Egypt. They were just common, ordinary, sweaty fishermen. Not at all the kind of people you’d pick to change the world. But God picked them. And when God picks you, you can do anything!

And then there were the Pharisees. They were so smart. They knew all about the things of God (or so they thought!). They knew all the signs. They knew just what they were looking for. They were looking for a mighty Messiah to lead them into battle, to set their people free. And what did they get? A little baby, born in a stable. They made the mistake of judging the book by its cover.

(An interesting thing. Jesus WAS a book, in a way - he was the word of God, made flesh.)

But, how could the Pharisees know that this little baby was the SON OF GOD. You certainly couldn’t tell by looking at him. You certainly couldn’t tell that this tiny, wrinkly, wet, little baby had the whole universe at his command.

But he did.

And so, no matter what Jesus did, no matter how great were the miracles he performed, no matter how wise and true were the things he taught - they just couldn’t see it. They had already made their judgment.

And it was a big mistake.

And the world still is making that same mistake today.

Wonderful Things

Paul Dallgas-Frey
August, 2002

2002 Paul Dallgas-Frey


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