Old origins of modern expressions

From Time to Time - Part 2

KJV and three earlier translations

Exodus 4:10-17, Put words in his mouth

Numbers 22:21-31, Fell flat on his face

Psalms 72:1-9,20, Lick the dust

KJV and several earlier translations

1 Samuel 10:17-24, God save the king

Isaiah 40:9-15, Drop of a bucket

Matthew 7:9-20, Sheep's clothing; bonus: strait and narrow

Matthew 26:36-45, The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak

John 5:30-40, A shining light

Matthew 19:16-26, Go through the eye of a needle

Romans 2:1-16, A law unto themselves

Romans 13:1-10, The powers that be

2 Corinthians 11:7-19, Suffer fools gladly

Exodus 2:11-22, Stranger in a strange land

Psalms 62:5-8, Pour out your heart(s)

More Old Origins of Modern Expressions

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A rich man, a camel, and a needle.
Jesus compared a rich man's entry into heaven with a camel going through the eye of a needle. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

KJV and three earlier translations

Exodus 4:10-17, Put words in his mouth (all but Tyndale and Geneva) (08/17/22)

When we speak today about "putting words in someone's mouth," we almost always mean it negatively. It's usually a claim that the someone said something they did not in fact say. Occasionally it describes an effort to get them to say something that they otherwise would not. This is not how the Bible uses the expression, either here or in the other five passages that have it (Deuteronomy 18:18; 2 Samuel 14; Isaiah 51:16, 59:21; Jerimiah 1:9). Here and in Deuteronomy and the prophets, it is God who is putting words into the mouth of his chosen spokesman - in Aaron's case, indirectly. In 2 Samuel, Joab sends for a wise woman and tells her what she should say to King David about his son Absalom; this is more like the second modern usage, but still not exactly the same.

It's bad enough when we put words in another person's mouth; it's worse when we put words in God's mouth, as we saw in one of the Songs of Summer. WARNING : This song is satire! If you don't like or understand satire, it will offend the dickens out of you. If you do like and understand satire, it will pinch. Your best bet is to skip it entirely.
Exodus 4:15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

Numbers 22:21-31, Fell flat on his face (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims) (08/18/22)

The story of Balaam the prophet runs from Numbers 21:1 to 24:25, so we're only going to read a brief excerpt. The whole story is fun reading though, if you've got some extra time.

Several aspects of this story are puzzling. Why do the rabbis consider Balaam to be a heathen prophet when he refers to God as "the LORD my God" (Numbers 22:18)?* Why did God tell Balaam to go with them (22:20) and then get angry when he goes? Why did the angel, whose job is to deliver a message, remain invisible for such a long time? Why is Balaam so mean to his donkey? Above all, why isn't Balaam surprised when the donkey talks? Has it always been able to talk? When it comes to explaining the story of Balaam's ass, I fall flat on my face.
Exodus 4:15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.
* Ronald H. Isaacs, 1998, Messengers of God, pp. 85-86.

Psalm 72:1-9,20, Lick the dust (all but Tyndale and Wycliffe) (08/19/22)

There seems to be some difference of opinion about whether "lick the dust" means "to grovel or be defeated" or "to be slain or die in battle" in modern English idiom. "Bite the dust" means "fail completely or die," and some dictionaries equate the two idioms, and some don't. I was hoping that either the Hebrew or Greek would help, but no, they both say, fairly literally, "lick the dust." Whatever the writer had in mind, we know it couldn't be positive, because he wanted it to happen to Solomon's enemies.

Wouldn't it be better if we reconciled with our enemies? This would be a good day to pray for leaders of all stripes, here and around the world. Only during peace can they "be judges of God's people in righteousness, and make true decisions for the poor."

Notice vss. 18-20. The book of Psalms is divided into five sections, and each one of them ends with a doxology similar to this one. Some of them also have the little announcement that we've come to the end of a section.
Psalm 72:9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.

KJV and several earlier translations

1 Samuel 10:17-24, God save the king (all but Tyndale and Wycliffe) (08/22/22)

Toward the end of the book of Judges, there's the repeated refrain, "There was no king in Israel, and every man did as he pleased." Then you get to 1 Samuel, and the people want a king to lead them in battle. The problem is that they already had a king: God. So there's a lot of tension in 1 Samuel between the idea that they needed a king and the idea that they had a king already. God chooses Saul, and - once they find him - the people shout, "God save the king!" in the KJV, and "Long live the king!" in some other translations.

Who knew? I would have thought "God save the king" came from the English long before the King James. In Begat, Crystal points out that several phrases that seem to have originated in the KJV were actually floating around in common use before any of the English translations, although he doesn't say that about this one. In any case, let's hear it for Queen Elizabeth II, the second-longest-reigning monarch in history. God save the Queen! She's already doing a good job of living long.
1 Samuel 10:24 And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.
(Addendum: Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, so now we're back to "God save the King!")

Isaiah 40:9-15, Drop of a bucket (all but Tyndale and Bishops') (08/23/22)

One thing I found a bit puzzling about David Crystal's Begat is that sometimes he counted sayings as different when they varied by one word, and sometimes he counted them as the same. Those cases are a drop in the bucket, however, compared with the huge amount of work he did. I had never heard "drop of a bucket," and when I Googled it, I got "drop in the bucket," which is the way I always have heard it.

Anyway, we've all been oohing and aahing over the new pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope, but we need to remember that in comparison with God, the amount of sky we can measure is a drop in the bucket. How much more so are the nations of earth!
Isaiah 40:15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
By the way, if you recognize some of today's reading, maybe you heard it in "The Messiah."

Matthew 7:9-20, Sheep's clothing (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims); bonus: strait and narrow (08/24/22)

The idea of a wolf in "sheep's clothing" is so common that there's currently an advertisement that has a wolf dressed up as a sheep. I don't know what the ad is for, although undoubtedly the wolf is either the competitor to, or the problem to be solved by, the advertised product. We all know that we should watch out for the wolf in sheep's clothing. The tricky part is recognizing them.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
As a bonus idiom, we get "stay on the strait and narrow." This is one of the ones that are based on, but not quoting, a KJV scripture. You know how you're watching a football game, and some player has got the ball, running for all he's worth, and two guys from the other team are squeezing him toward the sideline, and they replay it six times from three angles to decide whether he had both feet inside when he slipped between them??? He went through a strait opening along a narrow path - surrounded by difficulties, with not much room to maneuver.

Don't say "straight and narrow." It's "strait and narrow"! What's so difficult about staying on a straight path? Nothing. If the player had been running straight down the middle of the field, there would have been no question about whether he was in or out. Going through a strait gate - a constricted or difficult one - can be tough.
Matthew 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 26:36-45, The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (all but Wycliffe and Geneva) (08/25/22)

The disciples had eaten a heavy Passover meal and drunk several glasses of wine. Now it is late at night, or possibly even in the wee hours of the morning, and they are in a quiet garden. No matter how hard they try, they can't keep their eyes open. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

John 5:30-40, A shining light (all but Wycliffe and Geneva) (08/26/22)

Do you know someone at work who is a shining light? We use this expression in exactly the same way Jesus did. It means that someone is a wonderful example, knows the job, and does it well and cheerfully. Jesus says that John the Baptist is a shining light. Let your own light shine like John's.

Moses required that in any serious case, two witnesses were required (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15). Jesus says three witnesses testify about who he is: the shining light John, whose testimony Jesus discounts a little; the works the Father has done through him; and the scripture. Notice vs. 31, "If I testify about myself, my witness is not valid." Remember that Jesus' trial before the high priest, scribes, and elders was invalid because they used his own words against him, not having any other witnesses (Matthew 26, Mark 14). He was in a lose/lose situation. If he said something positive about himself, they wouldn't accept it, and if he said something negative, they used it against him. Keep this in mind the next time you're listening to a political discussion.
John 5:35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

Matthew 19:16-26, Go through the eye of a needle (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims) (08/29/22)

One of the unintentionally funniest things I ever heard on television was when the announcer at an air show said that a plane had "literally threaded a needle" in some maneuver. Hmm... it must have been a pretty big needle, so I wonder why I didn't see it?

Anyway, I've heard a lot of explanations about what "needle" Jesus was referring to in this tiny parable, and they all depend on one idea: that there was some literal needle - some gate, some path, some thing - that you could, with difficulty, get a camel through. Notice, however, vs. 26: "For human beings*, this is impossible." The point is not that you can do it with difficulty; the point is that it's impossible for a human being. You can't save yourself, rich or poor, but I think you can read carefully for yourself.

One of the great things about the King James is that it clearly distinguishes between "ye" (plural) and "thou" (singular). Jesus isn't telling everyone to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. He's saying that if your personal wealth is standing between you personally and salvation, divest.
Matthew 19:24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
* not "man," no matter what your translation says, grumble grumble.
Reader Comment and Response: "I saw your feminist whining in the footnote..." (The reader was joking!) I responded as follows: "Actually, it wasn't feminist whining, it was linguistic whining. There's a perfectly good Greek word for 'man,' and it isn't used here [in Matthew 19:26] - I checked before I whined, thank you very much! The word used here is anthropos, which means 'person' or 'human being,' and not aner, which means 'man.' In the time of the KJV, 'man' also meant 'person' or 'human being,' but English has changed, and the ESV should know better.*
* Note feminist whining.

One of the other great things about the KJV is that if a word isn't actually in the Greek text, but is required or could be used in English, the KJV puts it in italics. Some idle afternoon, you might want to go through your KJV and see how often "man" is there as "man. " It's an eye-opener that should soften your heart toward the so-called "gender neutral" translations.

Romans 2:1-16, A law unto themselves (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims) (08/30/22)

I once commented in a Bethel class that Paul is difficult to read, and a student responded that she thought he was easy to read. I told her that if that is so, then her translator had worked very hard at making it easy! Compare vss. 5-16 in the Easy-to-Read Version and the KJV. You'll see that in the KJV, they are all one "sentence," although strictly speaking I don't think Greek has sentences in the way we think of them - and I know Paul doesn't! The ERV has broken these verses into (if I counted correctly) 29 English sentences, and yeah, it's a lot easier to read! The thought is the same: Everybody is in the same boat with respect to God. Both Jews and Gentiles will be judged according to the same standards, whether they have heard the Law of Moses or not, because God's law is obvious to everybody.

I think when we say that someone is "a law unto himself," we don't usually mean that in a positive way. We mean that he does whatever the heck he wants to do and gets away with it. This isn't what Paul meant. He's saying that even when the Gentiles haven't heard the Law of Moses, if they do what God requires, they'll be fine. They are a law unto themselves because God's law is written on their hearts, as it should be for all of us.
Romans 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.

Romans 13:1-10, The powers that be (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims) (08/31/22)

Once when I was in my early teens, I said something mildly negative about the sitting President of the United States, who belonged to the opposite political party from my parents. Although he didn't really disagree with what I had said, my father told me that nevertheless, "He's the only president we've got." My father supported the President because he was the President, and not because he agreed with all of the President's policies. Now the United States has become so deeply divided along political lines that people are inclined to say about anyone of the opposite party, "He's not my president." Well, yes, he is. Paul doesn't say that you have to like him or his policies, but you do, he says, have to respect, honor, and obey the leaders and laws of your nation, because the powers that be are ordained of God. If you disagree with rulers of the opposite political party, that's all the more reason to act responsibly in your civic and personal life, to pray for your leaders, and to love them.
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Corinthians 11:7-19, Suffer fools gladly (all but Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims) (09/01/22)

Apparently, someone had convinced the Corinthians that Paul was taking advantage of them. Paul does not suffer fools gladly, however, and he writes back a sharply worded reminder that he never took a dime from them. Since that is true, the people who are accusing him, he says, must be the instruments of Satan. Paul wrote at least three letters to the church in Corinth, and one, the "letter of tears" (see 2 Corinthians 2:4), seems to have been combined with what was originally the third letter. This amalgamation of two letters we now call 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 11:19 For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.
Remember that in the time of the King James Version, "suffer" meant "allow" or "put up with."

Exodus 2:11-22, Stranger in a strange land (Geneva, Tyndale, Bishops', KJV) (09/02/22)

It seems like for the past couple of years we've all been strangers in a strange land. How could you feel like part of a community when church was livestreamed, groceries were delivered anonymously to your door, and you couldn't tell whether people were smiling or not? Restaurants were closed, flights were canceled, school was on line. It's been very strange. Moses really was a stranger, an Egyptian in Midian, and it was a strange land, full of tents, sheep, and nomads instead of the palatial wealth he was accustomed to in the house of Pharaoh.
Exodus 2:22 And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
He calls his son Gershom because he was a stranger in a strange land. What? Remember that whenever a person or place in the Bible is "called X because Y," X sounds like Y in Hebrew. Gershom/refugee is from garash/drive out, and stranger is ger; however, strange land is nikriy erets/alien land. "I named my kid Refugee because I was a stranger in an alien nation" just doesn't play any music at all, but the brilliance of the KJV is that "stranger in a strange land" at least gives us the flavor of the Hebrew play on words. Not to mention a lot of book, song, and game titles.

Psalm 62:5-8, Pour out your heart(s) (Geneva, Bishops', Douay-Rheims; found by National Geographic but not Begat) (09/05/22)

In one episode of M*A*S*H, Major Burns has a fight with Major Houlihan, decides to be a real soldier, goes a little crazy, and ends up pointing an M-14 at Colonel Potter and Captains Pierce and McIntyre. At that point, Radar O'Reilly comes in and says, "Phone call for Major Burns." Major Burns leaves, and the Colonel says, "That call couldn't have come at a better time," and Radar says, "Sometimes a guy just has to talk to his mom." In the outer office, we see Major Burns pouring out his heart to his mom, whom Radar had obviously called. Moms are good, but if they aren't available, David says we can always call God and pour out our hearts before him, too.
Psalm 62:8 Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

More Old Origins of Modern Expressions
From Time to Time - Part 1
From Time to Time - Part 3

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