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Bible superlatives

November 2018 | by Timothy Cross

One of the late Muhammad Ali’s catchphrases was ‘I am the greatest’. In his prime, of course, Ali was an outstanding boxer and, as a man, transcended the sport, becoming one of the most well-known men on the planet.

Yet the best of men are men at best. Ali was only human, with all our human weaknesses and foibles, as his three ex-wives would no doubt testify.

In the English language, an ‘-est’ on the end of an adjective is referred to as a ‘superlative’, so we have ‘great’, ‘greater’ and ‘greatest’. Superlatives in the Bible though are a little different. These use the word ‘of’ in the middle instead.

The greatest man would thus be described as ‘a man of men’; the tastiest food would be described as ‘a food of foods’, and the greatest time would be ‘a time of times’. The following four ‘Bible superlatives’ are most instructive.

Holy of holies

In both the ancient tabernacle and temple in Jerusalem there stood the ‘holy of holies’, referring to the holiest place of all. In the holy of holies stood the ark of the covenant, a box containing the Ten Commandments and overshadowed by two carved cherubim. The lid of the ark was known as the mercy seat.

The holy of holies was the holiest place of all, because the omnipresent God dwelt there in a particular way. Entrance to the holy of holies was thus strictly forbidden. Only the high priest could go in there, and he only once a year, and only with the blood of an atoning sacrifice.

When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, the Bible records that the curtain separating the holy of holies from the holy place was mysteriously and miraculously ripped in two. It was God’s own way of showing that Jesus’ death achieved something.

His death put away our sin and gave us immediate access to God. ‘Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).

Song of Songs

One of the poetical books within the Bible is entitled ‘The Song of Songs’, meaning the greatest of all songs. The Song of Songs is all about human love. Marriage — that is monogamous, heterosexual marriage — is a divine ordinance and the Song of Songs celebrates this.

Christians, however, have always read the book in the light of Christ’s love for the church. In the Bible, the church or redeemed community is described as ‘the bride of Christ’. And so Song of Solomon 2:4 says, ‘He brought me into the banqueting house, and his banner over me is love’.

‘From heaven he came and sought her

To be his holy bride;

With his own blood he bought her,

and for her life he died.

Vanity of vanities

The biblical book of Ecclesiastes opens with the words, ‘Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2), meaning that everything seems absolutely meaningless and pointless.

Hard experience taught the preacher that life does not always seem to make sense. It can seem utterly meaningless, with no rhyme or reason to it. Generations come and go; streams run into the sea; we eat, drink, work and die. What is the point and purpose of it all?

The answer of the whole Bible is to bring God into the equation. He created all things; he has the answers. Our chief end is to know and love him, ‘to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’ (Shorter Catechism). Ecclesiastes is a somewhat pessimistic read, but it ends with a gleam of light: ‘Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Fourthly, there is:

King of Kings

In Revelation 19:16 the Lord Jesus Christ is described as the ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. This designates the absolute supremacy of Jesus. He is supreme; he is beyond superlative.

Currently Jesus is enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand. Scripture foretells a day when he will come back to earth in power and great glory, and reign for ever. He will put down all his enemies and all that is incompatible with God’s kingdom, and raise his own people up to glorious immortality.

Why? Because he is the ‘King of kings’, ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-10).

‘Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies’ (Shorter Catechism).

And finally we note that Psalm 136:1-3 uses Bible superlatives to praise God. ‘Give to our God immortal praise’; the Lord is incomparable.

‘O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures for over. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures for ever’.

Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC