Manners & Customs: Figurative Language
Figurative language and figures of speech in ancient bible times
Children in Market Places
Children in the market place. In the Orient children always love to go to the market place, where so many interesting things are happening. They watch with keen interest everything that happens there. They may play pranks, and of course they have their games. JESUS used a crowd of such youngsters as an illustration in one of his sermons. When the suggestion was made by some of them that they "play wedding," and later that they "play funeral," the rest of them balked at both suggestions. JESUS said: "But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented" (Matthew 11:16,17). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Gates and Symbolism
Symbolic references to the city gates. The Bible often refers to the gates of the city in a symbolic way. Sometimes the gates are used to represent the city as a whole, as when the LORD said to Abraham, "Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Genesis 22: 17). The Psalmist was no doubt thinking of the temple gates when he said: "Open to me the gates of righteousness" (Psalm 118:19). It is customary for the city gates to be closed at sunset, and John alludes to this by way of contrast in his description of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:25). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Land Reverting to the Blood Relative or Kinsman Redeemer
REDEEMING LOST INHERITANCES
The Old Testament law provided a way through which an inheritance that had been lost could be redeemed through a "go-el" or kinsman-redeemer. If a man through poverty was forced to mortgage his property, and then was unable to meet the payment on the date of maturity of the mortgage, then the man holding the mortgage could hold the land until the year of jubilee (which came every fifty years), at which time it reverted automatically to its former owner. But before this date a kinsman-redeemer (nearest male blood relation) could go into the civil court and by payment, recover the land for his relative. If the relation had died without an heir, then it became the duty of the kinsman-redeemer to marry his widow, and raise up the name of his brother.
The story of Ruth and Boaz is the Bible example of this ancient custom. Boaz redeemed the estate of the deceased Elimelech, Naomi's husband, by marrying Ruth, the widow of one of Elimelech's sons. There was a kinsman nearer in relation than Boaz, but he chose not to be redeemer, and this left the way open for Boaz, who was next in line to become the kinsman-redeemer. In completing the transaction whereby the inheritance was redeemed and Ruth became his wife, an interesting old custom was observed. The account says: "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe" (Ruth 4:1, 8). Boaz took off his sandal and gave it to the owner of the mortgage as evidence of completing his act of redemption. This custom was usual in the transfer of inheritances.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Speaking in Pictures and Figures of Speech
Use of figurative language and exaggerated expressions. Often the oriental manner of speech is to picture what is meant, or perhaps to demonstrate it. A good example of this is given us by Luke in his account of Paul's experiences:
"There came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle" (Acts 21:10-11).
If John the Baptist had spoken like some speakers in the West, he would have said, "Your pretensions to virtue and good birth far exceed your actual practice of virtue."19
Being a real Oriental he actually said:
"O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:7-9).
The large use of figures of speech in its teaching and conversation make the Book a typical Oriental book.20
The Oriental frequently makes statements that to the Westerner sound like uncalled-for exaggeration. One man will say to another, "What I say to you is truth, and if it is not, I will cut off my right arm." Or he will. say, "I promise you this, and if I fail in fulfilling my promise, I will pluck out my right eye." In those lands nobody would ever dream that such a resolution would be carried out. The statement simply means that the speaker is in earnest.
An Oriental can fully appreciate what JESUS meant when he said, "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee... If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee" (Matthew 5:29, 30). Many expressions of JESUS need to be understood in the light of daily conversation of His day. Here are examples of a few. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of GOD" (Matthew 19:24). "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:24). "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7:3). When reading such passages of Scripture, men from the Occident must remember the fondness of the Oriental for the hyperbole.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Symbolism of Horses and Chariots
Figurative use of chariots and white horses. Chariots and white horses were often used as figures of speech in the Bible. Chariots are referred to as symbols of power. Thus GOD "maketh the clouds his chariots" (Psalm 104:3). The LORD is said to have his army of angels and many chariots: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels" (Psalm 68:17).
And concerning the coming of the LORD, Isaiah prophesied: "The Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind" (Isaiah 66:15). The coming of CHRIST to fight the battle of Armageddon is predicted to be on a white horse, and the armies that follow him from Heaven will be upon white horses (Revelation 19:11, 14).
Generals of armies have usually been known to ride upon white horses, and so as General of a great army, CHRIST will ride such an animal; and since His saints share with Him in the victory, it is appropriate that they too shall ride upon white horses.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Symbolism of Olives
The symbolic use of the olive. The olive tree has been thought of as a symbol of peace, ever since the dove sent out by Noah from the ark came back, and "Lo, in her mouth an olive leaf plucked off" (Genesis 8:11). Throughout the Bible, oil is often used symbolically of the HOLY SPIRIT. And when the Apostle John speaks of the "anointing which ye have received" (I John 2:27), he means by it the enduement with power of the HOLY SPIRIT. Also oil was considered a symbol of abundance (Deuteronomy 8:8), and a lack of it was a symbol of want (Joel 1:10). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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