Sunday, 15 July 2012

Hebrew Idioms

An idiom is an expression, a term, or a phrase  whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through the conventional use of a specific language.

Every language in the world has developed idioms that are only understood in its own language.  The following examples are specific to the English language:
·                to feel under the weather
·                to have egg on your face
·                to read between the lines
·                to rain cats and dogs
·                to be all in the same boat
·                to have a bone to pick with someone
·                to go for a burton

If we tried to understand these idioms literally we would have to conclude that they are absolute nonsense. However, as idioms they make sense either in giving a graphic image of a situation, or in referring to a particular English custom:

·                to stage a boycott refers to an incident in 1880 named after Captain Boycott
·                to be as bold as brass refers to a magistrate called Brass Crosbyin 1770
·                to toe the line refers to the line drawn between the opposing front benches
         in Parliament
·                to use your loaf  means to use your head or intelligence. Its origin is the
         cockney rhyming slang for ‘head’ which is ‘loaf of bread’.

The Bible is no different, and it contains many idioms. It is  important to be on the lookout for idioms in order not to misunderstand a phrase by interpreting it  literally.

10 Hebrew idioms that could be misunderstood if read literally:
1. 1 Samuel 10:9   When Saul had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart;   
Meaning: God changed his mind

2. Psalm 75.5 Do not lift up your horn on high; do not speak with a stiff neck.’    
Meaning: Do not rebel

3. Isaiah 57.4    Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue?  
Meaning: do you sneer  

4. Jeremiah 4.4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts,  
Meaning: Commit yourselves and commit yourselves fully

Note that physical circumcision is a physical mark of commitment to the LORD….and, therefore, the ‘circumcision’ of other parts of the body is used as an idiom that symbolises commitment to the LORD, or the lack of commitment to the LORD, as in:

Ezekiel 44:9  Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary,

Habakkuk 2:16  You are filled with shame instead of glory. …be exposed as uncircumcised!

Acts 7:51  You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!

Acts 11:3  You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!

5. Jeremiah 6.10  Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot give heed.
Meaning: Indeed they do not listen

6. Matthew 5.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; 
Meaning:  If your decision or your will
Note that this idiom must NOT be taken literally, as some enthusiasts have done over the centuries.

7. Matthew 8.21      Another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 
Meaning:  collect my inheritance. The disciple obviously considered that he could not afford togive up his day job and follow Jesus....until his father died and he inherited enough cash!

8. Matthew 16.19   Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven
Meaning:  to forbid and to allow

9. Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 
Meaning: The Ancient Hebrew pictographs for ‘hate’, ‘sane’, are a thorn and a seed. A thorn is the seed of a plant with small sharp points, which causes one to turn direction to avoid them.  Therefore, in the Bible, ‘to hate someone’ really means ‘to avoid them’, as in the following two examples:

Genesis 29.31  When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, ’sane’, hated/avoided
Amos 5:15       Hate ‘sane’ evil, love good;  =  Avoid dysfunction, be committed to function

10. Luke 23:42   Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.
Meaning:  intercede for me (as my Advocate with God)   

So…remember to check the meaning of odd phrases, because they might be Hebrew idioms…..and if they are not understood correctly, you might  have egg on your face!!!


  1. Why didn't John go into the tomb ? - John 20:5

  2. John 20.8 states that he 'went in also'. Perhaps he felt that in v5 he did not need to go in because he could see from the entrance that Jesus was not there, and he was confused. John subsequently 'went in also' because Peter wanted to show him 'the handkerchief not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself'.' Note v9 also, 'as yet they did not know the Scripture,(Psalm 16.10) that He must rise again from the dead'.