Hiding the Truth in Plain Sight — Understanding God’s Methods of Hiding Information in the Bible! Pt 3
(Ver 2.1) This is part three of a series of lessons on advanced studies concerning the methods that God has used to conceal information in the Bible for us to find. By studying these methods we will greatly increase our ability to understand the truth of God’s Word. The first technique I discussed was “Widely Dispersed Information”. This is the method of spreading out and not covering a complete subject in any one location of the Bible. Next, I talked about “Symbolic and Allegorical References”. These are very common practices of calling spiritual things by natural names, descriptions and titles and not telling you that is what is occurring. So we have gone through two fairly complex methods of hiding information in the Bible, and today I want to shift gears and slow down and show you something more basic, but yet still very effective. Today, I want to talk about another common method called “Figure of Speech”. If you did not read this series from the beginning I would strongly suggest that you go back and start with “Part 1“.
Technique 3: Figures of Speech
Like in other writings of the English language, the Bible often times uses language and phrasing which is known as “figures of speech”. Figures of speech are words that usually cannot be taken literally. A figure of speech is one technique that can be used to conceal or hide the truth or true meaning of a verse of scripture while using words that clearly describe something to you in very expressive terms.. Here is a definition for a figure of speech that I found on the internet:
A figure of speech is a use of a word that diverges from its normal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it such as a metaphor, simile, or personification. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetoric or a locution.
As you can see from this definition the usage of “figures of speech” can bring clarity or they can introduce ambiguity to the interpretation and I have seen both of these. I have often times heard preachers try to take a verse of scripture that uses this technique of “figure of speech” and attempt to make it a literal truth found in the Bible. It was obvious to me that they were wrong, but obviously they did not see it that way at all. So I think that I should try to give you some examples of this type of writing found in the Bible that to me is obvious not to be taken literally. For example, the Bible describes events where God tells Israel that if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, they shall be “thorns in your side” (Numbers 33:55, Joshua 23:13). God was not speaking in literal terms, was He? God did not mean that these people would literally be a natural thorn in their natural flesh. The people of Israel would not be walking around with sticks and thorns poking out of their robes or their clothing made from the people found in the land. That would be an incredibly bad interpretation of the Bible to try to take this literally. Here is a sample of one of these verses from the Old Testament:
Num 33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.
God uses two figures of speech in this verse found in Numbers. We see a reference being made to pricks in their eyes and thorns in their sides. Neither of these can be taken literally, because they are purely “figures of speech”. This is just another literary technique that God has implemented in the Bible to make things a little bit more difficult for us to read and to understand. What God is referring to here, is a people that would become a spiritual hindrance and a distraction from them obeying the Law of God. These people would become stumbling blocks of potential temptations that would introduce them to other gods, idols, religions and things that were presented to deceive them. God knew the dangers and warned the people about something using figurative wording from what they could understand. Almost everyone in the world has had a time when they got stuck by a thorn and this is a very unpleasant experience physically. God is saying that this is what will happen to them in the spiritual realm if they do not do what God said to do. If you have ever had a thorn under your fingernail you can understand that this is a pain that you are better off not ever having this to occur. This is the idea that God is trying to convey by writing to the people using this technique. This usage consists of the fact that a word or phrase is used differently than the ordinary way that it is normally used within a context that is only done to create an added emphasis. Therefore, when God declares people to be thorns and pricks, He is not speaking literally. Figures of speech always represents departures from the given laws of normal language in order to communicate an emphasized point.
People today use figures of speech in their everyday conversations all the time. I often times hear someone say something like “She is a real pain in the neck.” That is a figure of speech and it means something else other than a literal pain in their flesh. Do you understand figures of speech? Have you ever been guilty of using a figure of speech? We can clearly see the usage of “figures of speech” throughout the Bible and we have to be smart enough to recognize them and treat them accordingly and to interpret them correctly. In my example that I have given you there is another similar occurrence in the New Testament where Paul wrote about a thorn in his flesh that was given to him.
2Co 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
I’ve heard so many confused individuals who try to imply that Paul was sick, crippled, and blind or that he had some other physical imperfection based upon this clear usage of a figure of speech. People please wake up and realize the difference between literal words and figurative language. Paul is clearly speaking in the same terms that God spoke to Israel in Numbers. This is a figurative explanation for a spiritual reality. Paul tells us what his “thorn” was, when he says it was a “messenger of Satan”. That sounds like a spiritual force and not a physical imperfection. If you take a figure of speech and attempt to make it literally true, you cause confusion to occur. You can promote a lie or a fabrication of a misinterpretation and that is a key problem occurring in the Body of Christ today. What you must do, is first understand the concepts behind “figures of speech” and then be smart enough to recognize them when you are reading through your Bible.
There are many different literary styles and techniques and God has used them all in the Book that He has given to us. As a part of studying the Bible we are required to be smart enough to read a verse and analyze it correctly in order to truly understand what is being said. One of these techniques that causes people trouble is what is known as this “figure of speech”. I do not claim to have done an exhaustive or comprehensive study on the usage of this technique; I merely wanted to introduce you to it so that you become aware of it as you read and study your Bible. Become intimately aware of God’s techniques and writing styles. Try to discover the methods that God has used to conceal information in the Bible and this will help the church to become united with one mind.
Php 2:2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
God bless you and continue to prosper you through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I will hopefully endeavor to expand this subject in my next blog.
If you would like to continue to read this series, please continue with “Part 4“.
Posted on February 28, 2010, in Bible Interpretation, Keys to Understanding and tagged Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Interpretation, Prophecy, Religion, Revelation, Truth, understanding. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.