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FAITH: Play on Words

Karen Stevens

Have you every noticed when you are speaking with someone, you understand the conversation one way, and someone else understands it another way?

Or, when someone says something, it sounds like they started in the middle of the story, or their point?

Or when people use homophones, or change your name up to be cute or mean?

Many people play with words and most of the time they fly right over our heads.

Did you know there are word plays in the Bible?  People have always exploited the use of words for their gain.  We think of great writers, or speakers as someone special, because they know how to get their point across, or lawyers in trying to get you to believe the way they want you to.

In Judges 3:8 it talks about “Rishathaim” which means “doubly wicked.”

Cushan means “dark,” and so Cushan Rishathaim means, “the dark doubly wicked one!” Clearly this is not the name that Cushan’s parents gave him!  Rather, it is a clever twisting, or substituting of vowels to produce a pun that mocks their adversary.

The Israelites, and their later Jewish descendants, were famous for making a pun on a name simply by changing a vowel or two.

Another example of this is found in Judges 9, when a man named Gaal Ben Ebed which means “Loathesome son of a slave,”.  In cases like this, we will never know the real name of the individual, but we can take an educated guess.

For example, by changing a couple of vowels, Gaal becomes “Goel” which means “redeemer.”   Were the Israelites making fun of this man whose name may have meant “Redeemer” by calling him “Loathesome?”

In 1 Samuel 2:29 the Lord accuses Eli and his sons of making themselves “fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel”.  Later when Eli dies, the narrator tells us that Eli broke his neck when he fell backwards because he was old and heavy.  The wordplay between kabed (which means heavy) which is the same root as the Hebrew word kabod (which means honor) emphasizes the correspondence between the stolen sacrificial meat, and the lack of honor given to God.  It loses a lot between Hebrew and English but still makes a statement.

A good wordplay is an effective way to communicate with wit and humor.  Good advertising strategies do this with the names of their companies such as “Curl up and Dye”, which is the name of a beauty salon I have seen around town.

Or another cute one is “Runs with Scissors” that was in Vidor.

This type of word play is called a paronomasia, or a pun.

Douglas Adams, a musician once stated “You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish.  Unless of course, you play bass.”  This is only funny if you know “bass” is not spelled “base”.

We here in East Texas pronounce “bass” as the fish, not the deep sound in music.

Samson’s riddle to his wedding guests in Judges 14:14, comes through quite well in most English translations.  Based on his exploit of killing a lion, and later discovering honey in its carcass, which he eats; Samson poses the following riddle: “From the eater out-came eats, and from the strong, out-came sweets”.

The problem with a lot of writings is it’s not meant to be understood – like our tax laws!  You can read those and legal documents, and stay in total obfuscation.

Thank the Lord He did not do that with His word.

Yes, some of it might seem to be written to obfuscate, but all the parables that were so relatable back then, are not so relatable to us in our present day.

Jesus referred a lot about sheep farming, crop growing, Jewish ceremonies, and law.  But the truth is, God wanted it to be easy for us to understand.  So even if we don’t know a lot about these subjects, He will still give us revelations to grasp what He expects of us.

That is the beauty of God’s Word.  It is a living Word, not a play on words.  Read it!  You will be blessed.

Karen Y. Stevens Founder of Orange County Writers Guild