Biblical Word Play

cat cluase paws


I first saw this Grammarly post on FaceBook, a few weeks ago. I love it!

I love word plays…always have. I come by it honest.  My father used to write poems that read like nonsense until the reader discovered the key to the hidden play on words.

Word plays are amusing. They can also be very effective communication tools.  We often see word plays used in advertising, where a product name is used in a double-meaning context.

However, word plays do not translate well to other languages. Language translation is all about effective communication of the original writer’s intent, and the double-meaning nuance of a play on words is almost impossible to effectively convey in another language.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that Malachi 2:16 was originally written to include a play on words that made perfect sense in the original text, but is largely missed by the language translators.

As rendered in the King James Version (KJV), this text reads,

“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”

Noncontextual application of this verse is the sole biblical source of the popular phrase “God hates divorce,” as well as the basis of an entire false doctrine founded in the notion that divorce is inherently sinful and always repugnant to God.

One doesn’t have to be a linguist to realize that this verse is worded very awkwardly. What’s all this about putting away and covering garments?  Are we discussing divorce, treachery, or washing laundry?

Reading the commentaries and translation notes indicates that the original text is also very awkwardly worded with an unusual sentence structure. Consequently, this verse is among the most difficult to accurately translate…because the translators, themselves, are unsure of the exact meaning.

It is clear, however, that the KJV translators have been unfaithful to the grammar of the original Hebrew/Chaldean text in at least two places.

The first translation infidelity is in the opening clause, “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…” The most reputable translators are in agreement that the verb hates is being acted on by the masculine second-personal pronoun he rather than by the speaker, God.  In other words, it’s not God doing the hating, but rather the person being spoken of by God.

The second translation infidelity is in the second clause, “…for one covereth violence with his garment…” The most reputable translators are in agreement that the verb covereth is acting on the garment, so that it is the garment being covered with violence, rather than violence being covered with the garment.  The KJV translators most likely transposed the object and subject of the verb covereth due to unfamiliarity.  There are many instances of Old Testament phrases regarding covering violence with a garment, but this phrase about covering a garment with violence is very unusual.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) holds more true to the grammar of the original Hebrew text, and is likely closer to the original intent:

“If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.

So, why all the confusion with the odd sentence structure obscuring meaning?

I’m no linguist, nor am I fluent in ancient Hebrew. However, I do know a few things about word plays, and I suspect that Malachi was making a play on words when he wrote this verse.  A word play would explain the odd sentence structure and obscure meaning.  For example, “A cat has claws at the end of its paws, while a comma is the pause at the end of a clause,” makes perfect sense as an amusing play on English words, but would be impossible to effectively translate to another language.

This second chapter of Malachi focuses primarily on treachery against a covenant partner.

Verses 1-9 rebuke the priests for violating God’s covenant with their ancestor Levi, “…But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:8).

Verse 10 rebukes treachery against fellow Israelites, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?

Verses 11-12 address the treachery of worshipping false gods, “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god” (Malachi 2:11)

Verses 13-16 continue the indictment against treacherous violation of covenant vows in speaking of the marriage covenant, “…Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi 2:14).

Now, that word treacherously is the English translation of the Hebrew word bagad, which Strongs concordance defines as: properly to cover (whence covering, garment); hence to act covertly, fraudulently, perfidiously. (For verbs of covering, hiding are often applied to fraud and perfidy).

So, knowing that the Hebrew word for treacherously carries a literal reference to deceitfully covering injustice with a garment, we can better understand why Malachi would say,

“If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.”

The awkward wording is a Hebrew play on words. The men being addressed were guilty of treacherously violating covenant vows…of deceitfully treating covenant partners unjustly.  And God, speaking through the prophet Malachi, was telling them that in hating and divorcing their wives they were exposing their own treachery.

Injustice that began as treacherous abuse (deceitfully covering injustice with a garment) was exposed for all to see (he covers his garment with injustice).

Or so it seems to this lover of word plays…

Regardless of whether or not I am correctly perceiving the play on words, it is clear that this passage is an indictment against treacherous abuse of covenant vows…not against just divorce.

What do you think?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


Deliver Us

trapped between pharaoh's armies and the red sea

Image from ABC presentation of The Ten Commandments

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:6)

God told Moses He would do two things in regard to Israel’s bondage in Egypt.  He promised to deliver them and to redeem them.  These two separate actions are often paired in scripture.  In modern English we often use these terms as though they were synonymous, but in scripture they have two very distinct meanings.

Redeem relates to covenant law and legal claim.  When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, He brought about the just dissolution of Joseph’s covenant with Pharaoh…the inherited covenant that had become slavery under the abusive rule of the new king.  As a result of God’s redemption, Israel left Egypt with no covenant obligations, legal responsibilities nor allegiances to Pharaoh.

Deliver relates to all the other aspects of leaving Egypt…everything except the just dissolution of legal ties through redemption.

Merriam-Webster dictionary provides three primary definitions of deliver:

  1. to set free
  2. to take and hand over to or leave for another
  3. to aid in the birth of

This third definition seems to give the most complete biblical use of deliver.  The picture of giving birth includes both ‘to set free’ from the restriction of the womb and ‘to take and hand over to’ the mother.  It also clearly illustrates the picture of a completely new life free of the restrictions of the previous life.

Upon their exodus from Egypt, Israel was birthed as a nation.  In fact, the Bible makes frequent references to this event in terms of a birth.

It’s important, though, to recognize that the delivery is a process with multiple stages.  Where the redemption was a one-time event that dealt with legal rights and legal liberty once and for all, the delivery process was lived out across a much longer time frame.

There was, of course, the initial departure from Egypt, followed a few days later by the confrontation and vindication at the crossing of the Red Sea.  These were the days of the initial physical deliverance from Egypt.

However, the Israelites had a much deeper tie to Pharaoh…emotional dependence and spiritual bondage.  They had lived for generations relying on Pharaoh’s protection and provision.  Upon finding themselves in the wilderness, they soon began worrying, complaining, and looking back on their years in Egypt with longing…longing for Pharaoh’s provision and protection…forgetting that Pharaoh had also enslaved them and murdered their sons.

When the time arrived to enter the Promised Land, they cried out in fear.  Without the protection of Pharaoh’s armies, taking possession of Canaan seemed an impossible task.  They were so reliant on Pharaoh they didn’t know how to function without him…much less how to trust a God they couldn’t see.

The Israelites didn’t even realize they needed deliverance from these emotional ties, spiritual bondage and false perceptions.  None of us can recognize our own need to be freed from misperceptions until after freedom has already begun…until after the perspective has been corrected enough to see the previous error.  We cannot see that our thinking was previously wrong until after it has begun to be right.  It’s a process that takes time.

So God graciously gave them 40 years…a generation…a lifetime…to be delivered from their emotional reliance on Pharaoh and the false idolatry of Egypt.  They were eventually fully delivered out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  Deliverance was a process with multiple stages, and God was faithful to complete the delivery.

Similarly, Christ has redeemed us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness.  Once we add our yes and amen to the work He has already accomplished on our behalf, the legal aspect is dealt with, once and for all.  The delivery, however, is a life-long process requiring multiple stages of deliverance from wrong thinking and wrong perceptions of God.  As we learn to know His heart, we leave behind legalistic doctrines, growing in His grace and putting on His righteousness.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins(deliverance from sin). (Colossians 1:13-14 – parenthetical clause added)

Just as in these two great biblical examples, God also intervenes to rescue His children from abuse.  Our initial focus tends to be on the legal aspect…the just dissolution of covenant ties…God’s redemption…the divorce.

Redemption, as used in scripture, means to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone (or something) belonging to God is being held captiveRedemption justly dissolves the legal covenant once and for all, through divorce.

Deliverance, though, is a process with multiple stages lived out across a much longer time frame.  The delivery process begins before the divorce, as the Holy Spirit first begins to reveal the mistreatment as abuse and intentional malevolent manipulation.  It is during this time that we first begin to recognize the abuser’s manipulative lies and learn to cling tenaciously to the truth.

Deliverance continues through the divorce, as the Holy Spirit brings insight of God’s heart of love triumphing over the false doctrines of legalism and relational idolatry…as we learn to let go of old familiar myths and cling to new revelations of Christ’s heart of love and redemption.

And the delivery process continues long after the divorce, as false friends show their true colors, as false doctrines are recognized and toxic relationships are left behind…as we learn to walk in liberty, trusting the love, protection, provision, and faithfulness of our invisible God…without the need for approval or understanding of former friends or church leaders.

In whatever stage of delivery you may be, from whatever situation God is delivering you, trust Jesus.  He is our faithful Redeemer and Deliverer!

Deliverance is a long process…with many losses to grieve along the way…yet the loss is of little worth in comparison to what is gained.  And God, who redeemed us, is faithful to complete our delivery out of bondage into liberty in Christ.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a)


From what circumstances is God delivering you?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


Fear Not

child riding small buckskin horse

Buck with our 2-year-old granddaughter

Although I am not a horseman, we do own several horses and I do enjoy working with them.  Do not assume this means I know much about horses…I don’t…but I enjoy learning.  :-)

One of our horses is a little buckskin we bought for our grandkids to ride.  He’s named Buck…I know…not very original…blame it on the previous owners…  ;-)

The great thing about Buck is that he’s small enough for the grandkids to feel comfortable riding yet big enough for me to ride. This allows me to warm him up before the grandkids ride, as well as riding between grandkid visits, to keep him conditioned.

I recently started riding Buck on woods trails around our farm.  Buck was clearly uncomfortable in the woods, so I patiently worked with him.  It took a couple of tries before he would enter the woods, and we started with a very short trail.  The first day, I took him through two short trails.  Next time we started with a short trail before moving to a longer trail.

About half-way through the longer trail, we jumped a deer…and Buck came completely unglued!  He spun 180 degrees and tried to run back, “Easy boy!”  When I stopped him, he spun a full 360 degrees and tried again, “Easy!”

Moments later he was reasonably calm, but remained very tense.  “Easy, now.  Calm down.  I know you’re scared.  It’s okay.”  As we resumed the trail, I continued speaking soothingly.  “Trust me.  I won’t take you anywhere you shouldn’t go.  Don’t be afraid.  Just trust me.”

As we completed the trail, I realized I was simply repeating what the Holy Spirit tells me daily, “I know you’re scared, Joe.  It’s okay.  Trust me.  I won’t lead you anywhere you shouldn’t go.  Don’t be afraid.  Just trust me.”

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  (Isaiah 43:1b-3a)

Your thoughts?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


Relational Idolatry


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