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Figures Friday

God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).

In Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Bullinger lists irony on page 807. He defines it as “the expression of thought in a form that naturally conveys its opposite.” He also states that it is used “when the speaker intends to convey a sense contrary to the strict signification of the words employed: not with the intention of concealing his real meaning, but for the purpose of adding greater force to it.”

He admits that there are not many examples of it in the scriptures because it has so much contempt associated with it. However, irony in the scriptures is usually linked with serious dialog which makes its use very clear. When irony is used to taunt or ridicule it is called sarcasm. Although the Bible (with its great variety of literary forms and numerous personal conversations and dialog) contains very few examples of sarcasm, the few examples are well worth noting. Let’s look at three of them.

Job 12:1,2:
And Job answered and said, 2 No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.

This powerful irony emphasizes that his friends and miserable comforters had no more knowledge or understanding of what was happening to Job than he did. His response to the self-righteous platitudes of his three philosophizing “friends” shows the contempt Job had for what they had to say. Job was in a battle for his life, mind and sanity. He had to fight fiercely to reject their evil surmising and maintain his righteousness before the Lord. Their arrogance, lacking any real understanding of God’s purposes, were certainly far out of line and well-deserved Job’s cutting sarcasm. We may also find such sarcasm useful in combating similar attacks from those who arrogate to themselves the right to sit in judgment of the sin and shortcomings of others.

Another well-known case of biblical sarcasm is Elijah’s taunting monologue to the prophets of Baal.

I Kings 18:27:
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

Can’t you just sense the contempt for the false gods. Remember Elijah is fighting alone against 850 false prophets (I Kings 18:19). In verses 21 and 22 Elijah challenges God’s people to come back to the one true God. Their silence is evidence of their confusion and dismay. Elijah’s disdain makes this taunt even more powerful. This was a real, spiritual, “superbowl,” and Elijah comes out victorious. Just as Job was fighting for his own mind and life, so we find Elijah fighting for the minds and lives of God’s people in a most powerful way.

Jeremiah also had something to say about the ineptitude of false gods and the foolishness of those who trust in them.

Jeremiah 2:27-28:
Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us. 28 But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.

Where is the power to save? It can’t be found in sticks and stones, but only in the living God. God Himself declares in Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” The folly of idols to save is contemptible. People put their trust in all kinds of things, but “whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

Although irony and sarcasm may be infrequent in the scriptures, it may be found in the most austere occasions. It is a powerful figure and can summon powerful resolve in standing for the One True God in the face of devilish opposition. We may also find it useful it combating lies and promoting the truth of God.