Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let’s Play Obadiah’s Way!

The Old Testament writers loved to play with words, and it was easy to do. Instead of expanding their vocabulary by varying the sounds and spellings of words, the Hebrews often extended the range of vocabulary meanings by using words with the same sound and spelling. This is not completely foreign to English—Produce means “to make something;” produce means something to eat! In the Hebrew Bible this translates into numerous opportunities for double entendre, double reference, in various and sometimes unexpected places. Obadiah 1 illustrates the point but not with a double but a possible triple entendre!

The New American Standard Bible translation of the significant clause of verse 1 reads, “And an envoy has been sent among the nations.” Here the sound and spelling of the word envoy (צִיר) is the same as the word for a hinge/pivot as on a door (צִיר)and the word for pang/pain (צִיר). Each of these ideas reflects the contents of the book regarding Edom.

The first word, envoy, needs little explanation. The divine message about Edom arrives among the various nations by divinely-appointed couriers. It is a message of doom. Edom is to be attacked and sacked.

The second word, hinge/pivot, reflects a change in the status quo for Edom. The squeaking of the door on its hinges is the sound of enemies at the gates. Verses 5-8 expand on Edom’s changing national fortunes:

5 “If thieves came to you,
If robbers by night—
O how you will be ruined!—
Would they not steal only until they had enough?
If grape gatherers came to you,
Would they not leave some gleanings?
6 “O how Esau will be ransacked,
And his hidden treasures searched out!
7 “All the men allied with you
Will send you forth to the border,
And the men at peace with you
Will deceive you and overpower you.
They who eat your bread
Will set an ambush for you.
(There is no understanding in him.)
8 “Will I not on that day,” declares the Lord,
“Destroy wise men from Edom
And understanding from the mountain of Esau?

The third word, pang/pain, highlights the end result of the war proclaimed by the envoy—national annihilation. Verses 16-18 describe the impending doom:

16 “Because just as you drank on My holy mountain,
All the nations will drink continually.
They will drink and swallow
And become as if they had never existed.
17 “But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape,
And it will be holy.
And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.
18 “Then the house of Jacob will be a fire
And the house of Joseph a flame;
But the house of Esau will be as stubble.
And they will set them on fire and consume them,
So that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau,”
For the LORD has spoken.

Double entendre, triple entendre—Hebrew words can pack a lot of baggage leading to frequent insights for the Bible student who is sensitive to the vocabulary of the Hebrew text. For those destined or determined to remain dependent upon English translations—stay tuned to this blogspot for more insights from the Bible in the original languages!