Scripture contains dozens of abstract concepts and to help us understand them, the writers often use comparisons and contrasts with familiar items.
For example, Psalm 1 starts out describing how the righteous man doesn’t keep company with or follow the advice of the ungodly. Verse 3 says that he “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither…” A tree planted by a river will have a steady source of nourishment. Therefore the plant can turn its energy into producing fruit. Then when the heat and drought of summer come on, the tree will be able to survive. By comparison, the righteous man has an abundant dependable source to draw his strength from. He’s productive and he’s able to withstand hard times.
In verse 4, the psalmist says “The ungodly are not so…” We could stop right there and have a good negative comparison. The ungodly have no source outside themselves. They can’t focus on being productive because they spend all there energy getting their needs met. When hard times come, they wither. However the psalmist goes on to say they “are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” Verse 5 gives us the key to the simile. The “ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” The chaff is the husk that must be peeled away (beaten off) to get to the kernels of wheat. The chaff can’t protest, and its powerless against the wind. The ungodly won’t be able to protest God’s pronouncement against them, and must be driven away, leaving just Him and His wheat.
One of my favorite ‘like’ comparisons is Jeremiah 17 comparing the man who trusts in man to a ratty, scrubby bush in the desert. Jesus uses these comparisons in His parables- ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’ Paul compares believers to a physical body.
Sometimes the comparison is made without the ‘like’. Psalm 23, for example, says the Lord is my shepherd. In other places, He’s called a Rock, a stronghold, and a shield.
When you see ‘like’ (or ‘as’) or if you see another comparison, stop and list some characteristics of the item in the comparison, whether it’s a tree, a sheep, a ship, a lamp or whatever. Then see how those insights apply.