The Lord is With You: Idiom Observations

GabrielSomehow the inevitable reading of an account that has likely been read or heard every year of my life was nevertheless fresh on Sunday. The reading was from Luke and covered Gabriel’s appearance to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Perhaps it is because I have been reading Ruth recently but I particularly noticed Gabriel’s greeting, “Greetings, favoured one, the Lord is with you!” (NET). The reason that reading Ruth has any relevance to this greeting is that the narrative of Ruth reveals a Semitic greeting, “… Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!”” (Ruth 2:4, NET). Semantically, “May the Lord be with you” and “The Lord is with you” barely differ (if you’re that way inclined; the former’s Hebrew is simply “יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם” which the LXX translates as “κυριος μεθ’ ὑμων”, Luke 1 has “ὁ κυριος μετα σου”).

A while ago I posted on another expression that I noticed because idioms are one of the major barriers when trying to understand a language. It’s no use being able to understand the Zulu for “the cat is sleeping in the fireplace” and then offering to get it a blanket when the idiom means that there’s no food (otherwise there would be a fire in the fireplace on which to cook the food). In the case of “The Lord is with you” it’s useful to note that this is a simple greeting. This realisation has a couple of applications:

First, we shouldn’t heap up theological meaning on every occurrence. While it would certainly be useful to ask the significance of the greeting – did surrounding nations have similar greetings or was Israel unique in understanding God as near and did this theology filter into everyday speech? – it is not the point every time we find it. We shouldn’t, therefore, read Mary’s “trouble at the angel’s words” as being the result the sudden revelation of her Lord’s immanence.

Second, we should read in light of it’s actual meaning. When the angel says to Gideon, in Judges 6:12, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (NET) we should read it as saying, “Good morning, imposing soldier!” Gideon’s response is, then, amusing and a bit cynical in that he doesn’t question his designation as a courageous warrior (even though he is not – and strikingly so); rather, he responds with something like, “You think it’s a good morning? What are you smoking? How is this ruddy morning good when everywhere I look I see disaster”.

gabriel2The phrase can be found in a number of Pauline epistles (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:22, 2 Thess. 3:16) and he seems to have modified it slightly to “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23, 1 Thess. 5:28, 2 Thess 3:18). 2 Thess 3:16,18 have both of these versions and it seems that Paul may have personally written verses 17 and 18 which means that his scribe would have written v16 and “signed off” and Paul concluded with his own greeting.

In the case of Luke 1:28, Mary’s trouble is not the result of the “hello” but of the idea that she is “one who is favoured” – a recipient of grace – (contra Gideon) it makes sense that she would then wonder what this grace was. In an unrelated note; I suppose that, like Zechariah, the source of her fear would be the sight of Gabriel.

So next time you see “The Lord [is/be] with you” ask yourself what would be different if the passage read “Hi!”.

Coming and Going: Idiom Observations

come-in-go-away-doormatSome time ago I preached from Mark 6 and thought verse 31b a little weird, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”. Of course eating introduces a major theme in the narrative but what on earth are people coming and going for? Surely they come and sit down?

When I preached the passage I looked up the line from verse 34 “they were like sheep without a shepherd” which comes up in Isaiah and Kings (as well as a parallel passage in Chronicles) but also in Numbers 27:17 which caught my eye because of what else Numbers 27:17 says. Moses is asking God to appoint a new leader for Israel, “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd”. This as a delightful discovery because if Mark is picking up this text, his comment is that Jesus is the new Joshua of Israel; Jesus comes to go out and come in before the people so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd.

I have still wondered about the expression though and as I’ve been reading the Bible this year it’s jumped out at me a few times. In 1 Samuel 18:13, Saul makes David the commander of a group of soldiers and David, “went out and came in before the people” and in verse 16, “all Israel and Judah loved David [in contrast to Saul], for he went out and came in before them.” Then later in 1 Samuel 29:6, Achish trusts David but the rest of the Philistines don’t (probably a wisely so) but Achish bemoans them saying, “to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign.”

What’s the point of all this? Well really that’s pretty much it: I just thought it was an interesting expression and one that is not immediately intuitive; “going out and coming in” seems to be a Semitism (i.e. an idiom that has Near Eastern roots) meaning “to lead”. Have you noticed it anywhere else?

An Ailing Translation: Psalm 114

hallelpsalmsWe’re doing a series on the Psalms at Trinity Hilton and for my preaching slot, I decided to do Psalm 114 because it looked like the least insurmountable of these surprisingly perplexing poems. It’s an awesome poem in its own right: I can almost hear a taunt, as the history of the sea fleeing and the Jordan turning back is recounted,

What ails you, Oh sea, that you flee?
Oh Jordan, that you turn back?

I was a bit concerned that the skipping hills mountains were “ailed” in the ESV. I considered that “skipping” may be more like trembling but realised that the hills and mountains are compared to rams and lambs. So having read the ESV, I looked at the Hebrew which simply says, “מַה־לְּךָ֣ הַ֭יָּם כִּ֣י” (literally: “what is there to you, sea, that”, i.e. “what do you have, sea, that …” or just “why …”). I checked the Septuagint which is pretty wooden “τί σοί ἐστιν θάλασσα ὅτι … ” and so I checked the NIV which I’ll be preaching out of. Low and behold it says, “Why was it, O sea …”. I checked the NLT (cause it’s growing on me) and it says, “What’s wrong, Red Sea, that …” (you can sea the interpretive calls they make there). Now I am left a bit surprised by the ESV’s “What ails you …” – I am not given the impression that the sea is “ailed” at all. I think perhaps they simply followed the KJV, “What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?” (which, I admit, has a lovely poetic ring to it).

It’s interesting to me, though, that between the NIV and the ESV, the NIV went with a more literal translation whereas the ESV made an interpretive call. It’s also strange to me that the ESV’s decision doesn’t really make sense of the text. Why did the sea flee and the Jordan turn back? Why do the mountains and the hills skip? I can almost hear the earthy reply that conjures up the final refrain of the Psalm:

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the God of Jacob

It is the presence of the God who brings water from rock that causes the sea to flee and mountains to skip.

So does anyone know why the ESV included “ail”?