The Talmud is the comprehensive written version of vast Jewish oral laws and the subsequent commentaries. It is a challenging religious text, but contains some very practical advice. I ran across one example years ago that has remained in my memory banks. It says, “Examine the contents, not the bottle.” We hear the same difficult challenge in our more contemporary idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Several years ago I experienced first-hand insight into that idea. An acquaintance with whom I shared a mutual interest in the history of the Civil War loaned me, one book at a time, each volume of author Shelby Foote’s three-volume series on that awful war. Foote is famous for this compelling and comprehensive non-fictional narrative history of that war that threatened to literally rip America into two separate nations forever. Written between 1958 and 1974, the three volumes contained a 1.2 million word history of the American Civil War. When I first saw the three books (all first editions), they were dusty and the covers were torn and ragged (I actually ended up attempting to make new covers for them). They just weren’t much to look at. But once I cracked the first volume open and set my eyes on the first line, I was hooked! I found the books to be the most fascinating and thorough and enriching thing I had ever read about that great civil cataclysm that tore American culture to threads for four bloody and bitter years. I’m glad I didn’t judge those books by their covers! The content was excellent although the “bottles” (that is, books!) were aged and worn. Later, a closer friend (and a great brother in Christ) learned of my interest in Civil War history and found and provided for me (as a gift!) a beautiful complete set of all three volumes – again all first editions. This time the books themselves and their covers were in much better physical shape than the first set I read. Both sets of books tell the exact same story – same content, but very different looking bottles.
Americans are into judging bottles and books (people, that is) by outward appearance, not content. As a culture we spend gargantuan amounts of money and efforts seeking to beautify and decorate the body. We measure beauty not on the basis of character but clothing. Many believe the false notion that the beauty of the bottle is more important than its contents. We augment body parts and spend tons of money on hair. We paint and pierce parts of the anatomy from head to toe. Several years ago TV celebrity Ellen Degeneres was in an ad for “Simply Ageless” Cover Girl makeup. In that ad she came out loud and proud with what millions of Americans, including some Christians, believe. She crooned into the camera, “Inner beauty is important, but not nearly as important as outer beauty.” But that’s a lie. God has something very different to say. Hear the words of the Lord in 1 Samuel 16:7 as Samuel vetted a possible replacement for King Saul – “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Now God wouldn’t have any of us to misuse or not be concerned about our bottles – that is, our bodies (see 1 Cor.6:18-20). But He admonishes us the soul is more important than skin, and character more important than clothing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart, For they shall see God” (Matt.5:8). It is the “hidden person of the heart” that is most precious in God’s sight (1 Pet.3:5). The Lord’s chief concern is how we adorn and beautify our souls, not our bodies. If you desire His favor, be sure to examine the contents, not just the bottle.