How would you describe an elephant?

There are four men standing in front of an elephant. They have been blind from birth and have never before seen an elephant. Each man is asked to describe the animal using only his hands as his ‘eyes’.

Man #1 touches the elephant’s trunk and says, “The elephant is this rough, bumpy feeling animal that is long and skinny, and quite flexible.”
Man #2 touches the elephant’s tusk and says, “An elephant has a very smooth and hard exterior, with a slight curve to its shell.”
Man #3 touches its body and says, “Wow, the elephant is a very large animal. Its skin has a leathery texture, and its shape is rather rotund.”
The last man touches the elephant’s ear and says, “Ah, the elephant is a very flat and flimsy animal. It appears to flap and move around quite a lot, which is probably its way of escaping danger.”

Depending on what part of the elephant each man touched, they described completely different things. Because of this, if you only heard one of those descriptions you would have a very different understanding of what an elephant actually is. The blind men had not seen the animal as a whole, and therefore could not accurately describe it as a whole. They had not seen the whole picture.

Today we do the same thing when listening to God’s word. We listen to, and accept words from those who have not seen the “whole picture”, those who do not understand God’s hidden secrets (1 Cor 2:6-8). They are like blind guides (Mt 15:14).

At the time of the first coming, who had seen the “whole picture”? Who came to fulfill and explain all the prophecies of the Old Testament? Jesus.

And who were those who had not seen the “whole picture”? Who did not understand the Old Testament prophecies, and could not explain them, even though they studied them and read them every Sabbath? The Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law. They were the ones whom Jesus called “blind guides”, and those who shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces (Mt 23:13). They did not have the full understanding and wisdom, and so their teachings were only rules taught by men, they nullified the word of God for the sake of their traditions (Mt 15:6-9).

Now is the time to understand God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that was once hidden (1 Cor 2:7). Let’s make sure we are not following blind guides, but are following God’s word of truth that goes out from the ‘mountain of the Lord’s temple’, Mount Zion (Is 2:2-4; Rv 14:1).

“Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.” ~Psalm 43:3

Here is a video of the “whole picture” – a few elephants (and a sneezing baby)

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Have you ever seen an elephant in real life?

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17 thoughts on “How would you describe an elephant?

  1. haha that video was cute! I have seen an elephant in real life on multiple occasions, too! I’ve seen them in the zoo, and I’ve seen them on the streets of India! Crazy sight!

    Totally agree with this post. I believe a lot of times many people only take other people’s word of the Bible. It’s great to have pastors, spiritual leaders, mentors, etc, but when we are not actively discovering God on our own, then we are missing a huge chunk of the puzzle, and in all honesty, missing out on who God is.

    • Wow, elephants in the streets of India – that sounds pretty cool!
      When is comes to seeking and understanding God’s word, I am always reminded of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-35). God saw how earnestly the eunuch was studying and seeking understanding, yet the eunuch realized that he could not fully understand “unless someone explains it to” him (v.31), and so God sent Philip to explain and give understanding to the eunuch.
      We must call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding (Pr 2:3-6), God sees our heart, and He will reward that.

    • I know, too often people use God’s word for their own purposes, creating their own understanding and teachings.
      Thanks for stopping by shabana, good to hear from you :)

  2. I’ve seen elephants quite often at zoos and various amusement parks. Of course not seeing them roaming freely in their native habitat has probably given me a distorted picture of who and what these magnificent creatures really are. I doubt one ever can see the whole picture of anything, so one must be content with one’s limited knowledge and not pretend to know more than one humanly can of oneself, God or this mysterious universe.

    • Hi NP, I agree, we are limited as humans. Is 55:8-9 even tells us that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours. However, I believe that there will be a time when the poor reflection that has been seen will disappear, and we will see “face to face”. We will know fully that which was once only known in part (1 Cor 13:9-12).
      How will this happen? Through the one who has seen the “whole picture” (i.e. Jesus at the time of the first coming).
      NP, I hope this makes sense. I know we don’t necessarily share the same beliefs on everything, but I definitely appreciate your thoughts and your comments (and I know you love animals, so I hope you enjoyed the short video) :)

  3. SUCH A GREAT READ!!! Wow, i loved how clear that analogy made it at the beginning of your post.
    1 Cor 13 v 8-13 came to mind as well, we are promised a time when we will be able to understand fully, the last thing i want is to be blinded by peoples perspective at the time that FULL understanding is a possibility!!
    Thanks HL

    • Haha, hi LL, I actually just used 1 Cor 13:9-12 in a comment-reply. Such a great passage!
      Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for popping over :)
      (By the way, awesome sloth picture at the end of your “Bring It” post!)

  4. This story is interesting (I believe it was originally Buddhist). Great adaptation of the illustration to our Christian understanding of the Word. It is so true that so many people take the Bible out of context because they do not know the whole picture.

    In Thailand, every day on our way to work (we were building a house) we saw a man walking his elephant along the side of the road. It was just like here where you might see someone with a dog. I also had the opportunity of riding an elephant.

    • Hi Matthew, you are right, the story does have Buddhist roots, and it provides such a clear and easy way to understand the concept of only hearing & understanding “in part” (which ultimately leads to misunderstanding/confusion).
      I have always wanted to ride an elephant. How long were you in Thailand?

  5. It is hard to fully understand what is happening around us when we only see in part isn’t it? God has revealed Himself through His word and more personally through Jesus Christ and often only shines enough light on our path for us to have to trust Him.

    Have you read Tim Keller’s take on the blind describing the elephant?

    • Hi Luther, I have read Tim Keller’s take…and I take your point. However, that is not quite the stand I was taking. I truly believe that there will be a time when we will see “face to face”. We will know fully that which was once only known in part (1 Cor 13:9-12). This is a promise in the Bible. If people are claiming to know fully and understand fully then they should be able to explain the whole Bible (all prophecies and their fulfillment), using only God’s word – and not man’s thoughts or ideas.

  6. I haven’t really seen an elephant very close, except when I was really small (at the zoo I think). I did see one at the Kruger National Park though. It looked slightly upset and aggressive so we didn’t stay next to it for long. They are beautiful though :-)

    I agree though, we are taught ‘the truth’ by people who have only seen parts of the truth. It can also relate to how different people interpret the Bible in different ways. Many religious people quote the same biblical extracts/sentences all the time and those extracts are often taken out of context.

    • I don’t think I would want to hang out with an upset/aggressive elephant either – they must be pretty dangerous when angry!

      God’s word has been misused, and misquoted so often. Take Matthew 4 for example, the temptation of Jesus in the desert. How does Satan try tempt Jesus? He quotes scriptute – he uses God’s very words. If Satan thinks he can fool Jesus by ‘sounding good’, then how much more will he be able to fool us (mere humans)?

      Where in South Africa do you live?
      Thanks for visiting, great to hear from you :)

    • Hi Janene, glad you enjoyed the video :) it made me laugh, so cute!
      I must be honest, with all these crazy things happening (especially “in the name of the Lord” or under the guise of orthodoxy) it becomes ever clearer that there is mass confusion or “drunkenness” going on. We have to test everything we hear, and be ready to throw out teachings that are not truth.
      Thanks for visiting :)

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