Friday, October 19, 2012

31 Days: Day 19 — Sayings, and where they come from.

It's amazing how slowly a month goes by when you know you have to write something substantial on the blog every single day. But we've made it to Day 19, so I'm thinking we can get to the end without catastrophe.

Today we're going to talk about the origins of a few phrases you probably hear regularly. You'll be interested to know that they all come from the Bible, only now you'll know the rest of the story.

(RIP, Paul Harvey.)

1. You probably already know that a scapegoat is "one who bears the blame for others." ( Every year on the Day of Atonement, the Israelites' priest would pile all the sins of the people on the head of the scapegoat and then send it out into the wilderness. What you may not know is that the scapegoat was the lucky one. Read what it says in Leviticus 16:7-10.

And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.

At least the scapegoat got out of there alive.

This idiom was brought to mind by my lovely niece Megan, who wrote telling me about a Facebook sighting that referenced "the escape goat" which we thought might be some kind of Trojan getaway vehicle.

2.  Then there are sour grapes, defined by as "disparagement of something that has proven unattainable." In other words, talking bad about something because you're mad you couldn't get it. A proverb about sour grapes is referenced in a couple of places in the Bible. One of them is Ezekiel 18:2-3.

What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.

So apparently there was a proverb about sour grapes, and God didn't want them to use it. Some say it was Aesop's The Fox and the Grapes. You can read it here. Go ahead; it's short. I learned all this just now while I was writing this post. Since Aesop lived in ancient Greece (Old Testament timeframe), it could very well have been his proverb they're talking about.

3. Have you ever heard someone claim to see the handwriting on the wall? It's what we say when we know something bad is coming, and the saying originates in Daniel 5. The story takes the whole chapter, so I won't print it out on the blog, but you can read it here. Go ahead; once you read the story, you won't forget it.

A few things to know: Belshazzar was the king of Babylon. The Babylonians had (under his father, Nebuchadnezzar's rule) taken the Jews captive and raided the "stuff" that was used in the temple—the gold and silver cups, etc. That's what Belshazzar and his cohorts were drinking out of at his feast. They were desecrating the stuff the Jews had set apart for use only in their service to the Lord. Hence, the handwriting on the wall.

It's my opinion that the correct idiom is "the hand writing on the wall," where hand writing is two separate words. I think that's the case because at the end of verse 5 it says, "the king saw the part of the hand that wrote." He saw the hand . . . writing on the wall, and that's what freaked him out. It wasn't the handwriting, it was the hand . . . writing. Again, a little space makes a world of difference.

4. And finally, when we just barely eke out a victory, we say we held on by the skin of our teeth. Basically, it's the narrowest margin conceivable. This one comes from Job 19. The main character of the book is Job, who is a wealthy man with sons and daughters and lots of animals. Satan tries to tell God that if Job loses everything, he won't remain faithful—he will curse God. So God tells Satan he can do anything he wants to Job, but he can't kill him. Satan destroys all of Job's wealth plus his entire family, except for his useless wife who tells Job to "curse God and die." Job sits in the dust in his filthy, torn clothes and scrapes the sores on his skin with a broken piece of pottery. Then his three friends come along and try to encourage him, guessing at what sin he must have committed to bring all this judgment from God on himself. It's a miserable story and a worse test any I ever want to go through. So in Job 19:20, Job says, "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth," meaning barely. It's a pretty depressing book until the end when Job passes the test and God restores to him much more than he had and lost in the beginning. If you ever think you're having a bad day, go read Job.

And can you believe I actually have this post done on the 18th and it will be up at 4 am like it's supposed to be? Wonders never cease.

Be thankful ~


Anita said...

Awesome. I actually enjoyed this a lot. In fact, I read Daniel 5 in my devotions this morning, only to come see it posted here on your blog. =)

I hope you find rest today and a touch from the Master's great hand.

NaomiG said...

Love this post SO much!!! Very cool, loved reading the results of all your research. :-)