Me...Under the Lamb and Other Things

I've had so many comments on that Chinese character I mentioned a few weeks ago, that I decided to devote this issue of my article to some of the other things I've learned over the years about the ancient theism of the people of China. Yes, they were theists all right—monotheists as a matter of fact—and everything I share here will just bring glory to our awesome God —"The Most High who rules over all the kingdoms of men" (Dan 4: 17), and who "has not left Himself without witness" (Acts 14:17).

First, that Chinese character, for any of you who missed it that Sunday (where were you, by the way?) It is the character for "righteousness". It is pronounced "Yì" in Mandarin. It goes way back to the most ancient days of Chinese history. 

Yì is a compound character, which means it has two or more characters combined. Just two characters with this one: the character for "lamb" (天)and (isn't this awesome?) the character for "me" (我). Wouldn't you know?—the "lamb" is placed above the "me". Can you make out the two in the illustration? The tail of the lamb has been removed to make room for the lower portion, but could it be any clearer than that? The prevailing concept of righteousness among these beautiful people had something to do with being "under a lamb"! 

From the most ancient times, the Chinese practiced sacrifice in a manner not far removed from that of the ancient Hebrews. No one knows how those similarities came to be. But here are some interesting things about that: 

Chinese sacrifices involved sheep, rams, oxen and other animals. They were often directed to a generic "heaven" called "tyan" (莖), but many were also directed to heaven's "Sovereign" whose title was "Dì" (帝). Later, when human sovereigns adopted the title, the heavenly one was called "Shàng Dì" (뒨) "the Sovereign on High". Modern archaeologists have uncovered thousands of sacrificial inscriptions with prayers and invocations to "Heaven", to "Dì" and to "Shàng Dì". 

The point of all this is simple: in China's most ancient times, long before Buddhism showed up, worship was largely monotheistic. In fact, lesser spiritual beings were called "shĭh" 使 : "messengers", not "gods". And somehow, even the Chinese had learned that a sacrifice—a shedding of blood—was needed to be "right" with God. 

By the way, the righteousness character isn't the only one to incorporate the sacrificial "lamb". You'll also find it as part of the character for "virtue" (禪); "beauty" (美). And—get this!—guess what the character for "shame" is? Xiū 羞 has a lamb with the character added for "deformed", "flawed" or "ugly"! God never did care for "blemished" sacrifices, remember? That would be "shameful"! Lev 22:12

The greatest of all the sacrifices was called "the Great Sacrifice". It was performed by China's emperor himself, beseeching "heaven" or the "sovereign on high" for the security and well-being of his people. Even though it was faithfully performed for centuries on end, by Confucius' day, no one seemed to remember just what the point of the actual  'sacrificing' was. Why the shedding of blood? Sadly, that had been long lost!

In the Analects of Confucius, we find an episode where a student asks him the meaning of the Great Sacrifice. "I do not know," Confucius replied. "And if one did know its meaning, he could govern the kingdom as easily as looking into this", upon which he stretched forth his open palm. (Analects 論語: III:iii). Oh, yes he could! The very Kingdom of God is made available to any who can grasp the significance of the blood of that Lamb! 

Evidence that the Chinese originally came from the Middle East is not at all lost in the characters of their language. Their word for "ship" (船) is a great example. It contains the characters for "boat", for "eight" and for "mouths". Strange, isn't it?  But, as many cultures do, the Chinese used the expression "mouths" for the counting of people in census taking etc. (人口). Do you remember how many people there were on history's first "ship": the ark? Go look it up!

And how about that ancient character for God: Dì 帝? Well, it goes even further back than the Chinese themselves. The character has changed down through the centuries, but the most ancient version of it was written this way: (). We still find it in ancient inscriptions. And, amazingly, we find a similar character in the cuneiform writings of the Sumerians and the Akkadians of the Middle East: the most ancient languages in the world. The Akkadian word for "God" was: ().  Can you see the similarity between the two? 

Not only that but the pronunciation was amazingly similar! The Akkadians called Him "Di-Gir". That surely is no coincidence, and it provides an amazing link that brings the ancient  Chinese all the way back to the Middle East, not far from Shem, in fact, Noah's son whose descendants went to the "east"! Gen 10:30 Isn't this Word of God an amazing thing! 

Fun stuff!  See you Sunday!                           RAS

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