by Mary Nell Wyatt
(First published in newsletter # 17/18 in 1997)
Ancient Manners of Speech
Have you ever heard the phrase “rule of thumb”? It’s a common phrase, but do you know where it came from? Get ready for a shock if you don’t know the answer. It comes from old U.S. laws which provide that a husband can beat his wife with a stick no bigger around than his thumb. It was termed “the rule of thumb” and long after the law was abolished, the phrase continued as a “figure of speech”. But would it make sense to someone who lived in another country, spoke a different language, and wasn’t familiar with our colloquialisms?
The Bible was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they wrote in the manner of their everyday “speaking”, as opposed to our manner of speech today. And all people develop “colloquialisms” or phrases or “slang” terms. For example, the first well-known copying machines were made by Xerox, so we know what is meant when someone tells us to “make a Xerox” of a document. This is a “figure of speech”; a word, sentence or phrase which is “figurative” in that it’s meaning differs from the literal translation. Some “figures of speech” are common to many languages while some are unique to one particular language. Also, some change “with the times”, while others are passed on. Obviously, the pilgrims didn’t know what a “xerox copy” was.
Some of the “phrases” or “figures of speech” are a sort of “spoken shorthand”. Take the term, “field hand” or “ranch hand”, used when referring to those who work in the fields or on a ranch. This goes back to Biblical antiquity, where the “hand” is used to represent the work or deed performed by the person. Hence, the “field hand” works in the field and the “ranch hand” performs the work at a ranch.
Sometimes, in reverse of the above, the person who performs the action is used as the word for the result of that action. For example:
LUK 16:29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
The people didn’t literally “have” Moses and all the prophets there with them- they had the Divinely inspired writings of Moses and the prophets.
Then, there are “idioms” of which the phrase “three days and three nights” is an example.
MAT 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
If this phrase were to be taken literally, Christ would not have arisen on the third day, but on the fourth. Yet, we are told distinctly:
MAT 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
The Hebrew idiom “three days and three nights” means simply “a period of time that covers parts of 3 days”. It may begin the last 5 hours of the 1st day, then include all 24 of the 2nd, and end after 4 hours into the 3rd day. But if we interpret it according to OUR manner of speaking today, we think it must mean 3 complete day cycles of 24 hours each. Yet, this is just how the Hebrews reckoned “days”.
In the time of Esther, we see the same “idiom” and it clearly does not include all 72 hours of “3 days and 3 nights”:
EST 4:16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
The literal interpretation of this above verse is that Esther, her maidens and all the Jews were to fast for 3 complete days and nights, or 72 hours, and THEN she would “go in unto the king”. Yet, we learn that she appeared before the king “on the third day” in chapter 5 verse 1. ANY time during the third day would be less than 72 hours and hence she and her maidens did NOT fast for 3 days and 3 nights.
These Biblical “figures of speech” are seen and understood from various sources- many times they can be understood in “context” or from numerous other Biblical passages on the same subject. Sometimes they are discerned from other non-Biblical documents from the same time period of the same region. In other cases, the language employed is figurative for a definite Divine purpose. When writing about the future Messiah, David wrote:
PSA 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:.
In fact, Christ spoke to the multitude ONLY in parables-stories which were figurative and explained Divine principles:
MAT 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:
And though the Bible is literal in much that is written, much is written in “figurative” language. Like Christ’s parables, great Truths are expressed in terms that are simply not literal, but make it absolutely clear what is meant.
Just as we earlier discussed the origin of our term “ranch hand” or “field hand”, we find hundreds of Biblical instances which are similar. For example, the words ” head” and “forehead” are used in this verse:
JER 3:3:… and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.
This admonition to Israel meant that the people were unfaithful to God and had absolutely no remorse for their wrongful actions. The word “forehead” here implies the innermost conscience of the person, which is centered in the brain behind the forehead- who they really are; their morals; their character. The “whore” had no shame- she fully assented to her actions, unlike someone who may be forced to perform the same actions but does so against her will.
The Mark of the Beast
Understanding these concepts gives insight into the ever popular “mark of the beast” which is received either on the “hand” or on the “forehead”. The implication, as we now understand it, is that this “mark” is NOT a literal visible “mark”, but instead an “action”. Received on the “hand” means the action is “performed” but does not necessarily mean that the person believes it to be the right thing to do. Received on the “forehead” implies that the action is performed without any regret or remorse; like the “whore” who was without shame, the person performing the action is in full agreement with the act.
This is further verified by the fact that the “seal (or mark) of God is received ONLY in the forehead:
REV 9:4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
Satan’s “mark” is received by doing the “action” whether the person believes it to be right or not. They may even KNOW it to be wrong and do it because they are compelled by threat of bodily harm or loss of property, etc. But God’s mark, or “seal” is only received by those who perform the action out of faithfulness to God- they KNOW it is right and why.
The “seal of God” and the “mark of the beast” are actions which, when performed, separate the people who are loyal to God from those who are loyal to Satan, or the “beast”. Those who are loyal to Satan receive his mark by either fully accepting the principle behind the action and performing it (“in the forehead”), or by simply performing the action EVEN though they may know it to be wrong to do so (“on the hand”).
The people of God, however, receive His mark only one way- by their complete belief in the action. No one receives God’s seal on their “hand”.
It’s something to think about………