Hey, Isn’t That…?
By Anthony Casperson

A couple of weeks ago, Dune: Part 2 released to theaters. I haven’t seen either of these films in the remake, but since this adaptation of the beloved sci-fi classic is in the cultural zeitgeist, the epic tale has been on my mind.

It reminds me of the first time I experienced this story of young Paul Atreides, which was actually the less-loved Syfy miniseries from 2000. And how I scoffed at the desert planet Arrakis with its giant sandworms.

See, I was a proud little Star Wars fan—yes, there’s still too much of that pride in this fan, as you all saw in last week’s blog—and there was already a desert planet that had giant sandworms embedded deeply in my mind. Tatooine.

I thought about how derivative this Dune story appeared to be. It almost seemed blatant, how closely these planets mirrored each other. And because Star Wars was obviously the one I saw first, it had to be the one that was copied.

My nerd cred took a big hit that day.

See, the book from which every film version of Dune is adapted came out over a decade before Star Wars released to theaters. And it was actually George Lucas who stole the desert planet idea from Frank Herbert. A fact all the more hinted at when you realize that, officially, Tatooine is in the Arkanis Sector of the Star Wars universe. (A little nod to Arrakis built right in, with a slightly adjusted name.)

I jokingly call this borrowing of idea as “theft” because I know that storytellers often include little nods to their favorite stories in their own work. Like in the novel I hope to publish one day, when my main character sees a superpowered dragon-man take up a purple colored eye mask, my protagonist comments how he might be able to see it, if the dragon-man were a turtle instead.

These types of homages happen a lot. And the purpose behind them is to show the love for other stories that the artist has.

There’s always a purpose behind it when we draw from the words and images that predate ours. Sometimes, it is to show love of the original. And sometimes, it’s to give a shorthand to our audience of the original’s ideas without having to spell it all out to us in the present.

When we see these moments of copying between biblical texts, it’s almost always for this latter purpose. The later biblical author (usually in the New Testament) wants their audience to take into account the context of the earlier words. And the clearer the connection—like using the same words and phrases—the more likely that the context of the original is meant by the later speaker.

An example of this copying comes from my experience this week, when I had a split-second repeat of the whole Dune/Star Wars debacle. (I’m happy it only took me a couple of seconds to realize, otherwise, I might have lost some of my theology cred.)

I was reading the psalms and came to Psalm 37. In verse 11, it says that the meek shall inherit the earth. Right then, the thought struck me that the psalm was quoting Jesus’ words from Matthew 5, like pretty much verbatim. I shook my head a second later when the proper chronology returned to my thought processes. And then realized that Jesus might just’ve been quoting this psalm during the beatitudes.

But, I would have to look at the Greek translation of Psalm 37:11 and the original Greek of Matthew 5:5 to see if the connection was as close as it seemed to be at the time. So, I hurried my devotional reading, only to be hit with Psalm 37:22. There, it says that those blessed by God will inherit the earth. I had a second moment of copying to look at.

And to no surprise at all, once I compared the Greek—whether the translation of the Old Testament’s Hebrew or the New Testament’s original language—I found matches in terminology. The same words for “blessed,” “meek,” and “shall inherit the earth.” The only differences were word order and a missing definite article. (A missing “the” in Greek doesn’t mean that much.)

So, with this proof of Jesus’ quoting—“copying”—Psalm 37, I looked at the context of the psalm to see what Jesus might have drawn from it for his original audience.

In the context of Psalm 37, we see David reminding the people of God that the workers of iniquity might seem to have it good in the here and now, but the day will come when God will reveal to them their punishment. It’s much better for us to trust in the Lord and do good, than for us to follow sinners to their shameful end. There’s a much better end for us in the long run.

Over and over, the psalm contrasts evildoers and the people of God—their actions and the results of those actions—in order to encourage the workers of good to continue in their righteousness. So, that seems to be the major idea of the ancient song.

But how does that relate to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5?

Here, Jesus looked at the crowds surrounding him and saw people worn and weakened by evildoers. A people who might be plagued by sin, but seek the truth of righteousness that is a part of the Kingdom of God which Jesus offered. Many might have wanted to give up on their righteous deeds, and give into the sin that seemed to have it so good. Throughout the crowd were those who needed to be reminded of what the people of God acted like, even while their understanding of the Kingdom of God was adjusted by Jesus.

Thus, with the entirety of the beatitudes (verses 3-12), Jesus reminds the people of God that they are truly blessed. Something so much better than the worthless trinkets that belong to the workers of iniquity. When compared to evildoers and their ultimate end, we can find comfort in the reminder of our blessedness.

If we were to merely look at Jesus’ words in that first part of Matthew 5, we might be able to extrapolate that comfort—and the juxtaposition of a bad end given for the workers of iniquity. But this is all the more clear when we have in mind the words of Psalm 37, which many among Jesus’ original audience might have held in their minds.

This contrast between the righteous people of God and the workers of evil continues as the Sermon on the Mount progresses. The beginning of Matthew 6 contrasts the people of the kingdom against the hypocrites who seek a fleeting reward. And even more clearly, the end of the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 7:13-29—shows example after example of contrasts between these two types of people.

Those who enter the narrow gate vs. those who take the wide road. The fruit of healthy trees vs. trees that bear bad fruit. Those whom the Lord knows vs. the workers of lawlessness, whom he doesn’t know. And finally, the man who built his house on the rock vs. the one who built his house on the sand.

Over and over, we see allusion to Psalm 37 in the Sermon on the Mount. The call for we people of God to continue on the path of righteousness. And for us to consider the blessed end we see ahead of us, compared to the fleeting—and ultimately destructive—end of the workers of lawlessness.

In part, I want to remind us of this comfort in the midst of difficulties. For us to be reminded of the blessedness of standing in the righteousness of God. It’s my desire that we who see the workers of lawlessness appear to have “positive” consequences for their evil deeds, be reminded that God’s justice will have its day.

But also, I wanted to take the time to help us understand more about reading the word of God properly. Witness the comfort we can receive without having to cherry-pick verses and give them applications that don’t fit with what’s actually being said.

When we read words that refer to or quote older parts of the bible, there might just be more being said than we realize, because the later author used this type of shorthand to bring the older verse’s context along with the quote, without having to express every piece of it.

This happens quite often when Paul pulls out quotations in his epistles, so I’d recommend to always check the footnotes for his quoted references. Those are the easiest to find the original.

But regardless of how we find the copying, it’s still up to us to go to the earlier passage and draw out the context so that the later verses can make more sense to us. We’ll find the truth in a fuller manner.

And we might just be reminded of comfort along the way.