Biblical Burns
The Art of the Insult According to Scripture

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Showing posts labelled Old Testament. View all.
9th May 2016
“Him that pisseth against the wall!”
- Dave (Amongst Others)
1 Samuel 25:22, 34
1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21
2 Kings 9:8

This is another gem from 1611’s monarch-commissioned English translation, the KJV.

Usually referring to a group of men facing imminent slaughter, most modern English translations translate this phrase as “all the males” (with perhaps a micturational footnote), which is what it essentially means. But I feel that really takes away all the poetry of it.

Thanks, King James.

26th February 2016

“Dog” is a term that crops up again and again in both the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately for any cynophilists reading, dogs are not portrayed in a very favourable light. Literal dogs are largely seen as filthy scavengers, usually tasked with consuming the flesh of recently deceased unpleasant people[eg].

This canine derision, however, is on multiple occasions freely extended to humans—occasionally as a poetic expression of self-abasement[eg], but more often as a biting indignity[eg].

Because there are so many excellent usage examples, it would seem meet to briefly discuss a few of my favourites.

Previously on Biblical Burns, Proverbs 26:11!
1 Samuel 17:43

Goliath, hubris personified, is unimpressed when he sees that his challenger is just some shepherd kid. On sighting Dave, he shouts out “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” After some cursing, the Philistine invites Dave to do his worst: “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the sky…!”

Say what you like about Goliath—he was generous to the birdlife.

Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27

Jesus’ ministry was nearly entirely amongst his own people. In fact, most Jews expected their Messiah to conquer other nations, not allow them in to His Kingdom. So when a Syrophoenician woman asks Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter, He answers in line with expectations: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The woman continues to beg him for help, but Jesus pushes back insultingly: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!”

Jesus happily loses the argument: “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done.”

Psalm 22:16
“For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers…”

Written by King Dave hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified, the 22nd Psalm is incredibly striking. Not only does Jesus quote it while on the cross—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)—but the content of the despairing psalm itself bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion:

A Side Note

Interestingly, one notable person flies in the face of the negative view of dogs. In the Bible, where the meaning of names are usually strikingly significant, it is strange to see Caleb, the Israelite spy whose name literally means “dog”, recorded as a hero. In Numbers 13-14, Josh and Caleb are the only two out of twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land who aren’t scared witless by the current inhabitants. Showing great faith in spite of the detractors, Caleb ballsily proclaims “We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!”

13th October 2015
“Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon…”
- Solomon
Song of Songs 7:4

As an amply nosed person myself, I can see many uses for this phrase.

This insult differs from most listed here in that it is actually intended as a compliment. Those familiar with the Song of Songs—by far the raunchiest book in the Bible—will have probably guessed this already. In “Solomon's Finest Song”, we hear the story of two young newlyweds, and, through a slew of variably comprehensible similes, we learn about their ardent admiration of one another—in this case, the young man’s appreciation of his ladylove’s capacious schnoz.

This nasal comparison comes amidst other comparisons between such things as hair and wild goats running down a mountain, teeth and freshly shawn sheep*, eyes and doves—we’ll leave aside the fawns and the grapes for now…

Unfortunately, (after a quick Google) it seems that no one really knows to which particular ancient tower the young groom was referring, or to its shape. We have our imaginations, though.

While I’m sure the young bride in the song understood the compliment and was sufficiently wooed, I’d love to see how well this comment would go down today.

* “…each one having a twin, and not one missing.”

5th September 2015
“Now Eglon was a very fat man.”
Judges 3:17 (ESV)

The story of Ehud and Eglon is one of the most vulgar stories in the Book of Judges—a history of the Israelites from before they had a king, and were (kind of) governed by a series of judges.

The Israelites had turned away from God. So God had allowed Eglon, the king of the Moabites, to conquer Israel. But after eighteen years of subjugation, the Israelites turn back to God and He raises up a deliverer, called Ehud*. What’s special about Ehud? He’s left-handed. Yep.

Ehud makes himself a short, easily-concealable sword, and, being left-handed, hides it on his right thigh. Weapons are usually kept on the left side (so the right hand can access them), so Ehud’s blade is far less likely to be discovered.

Ehud then pays a visit to King Eglon, bringing a stack of tribute with him. After paying his respects, he tells the king he has something secret to discuss, and so the king dismisses his attendants.

At this moment, Ehud (left-handedly) draws his sword, pulling out a totally action-movie one-liner with it:

“I have a message from God for you!” he proclaims as he plunges the sword into the king’s abdomen.

This is where it gets a bit grisly.

Eglon is so fat that the hilt goes in after the blade. Ehud’s sword is completely irretrievable. And the king’s bowels discharge. Great.

Ehud locks the door from the inside and escapes through the latrine. The attendants, noticing that the door is locked, assume the king is draining his bladder inside and choose to leave him alone. After waiting awhile, though, they grow concerned, and find the key to the door, only to find their monarch lying dead in a pool of his own…

But by now, Ehud has a head-start. Upon returning home, he uses the death of the occupying king to rally the Israelite army. They defeat the Moabite army utterly and reclaim their land, and there’s peace for the next eighty years.

I guess the moral of the story is that even left-handed people can sometimes be useful.

* The book of judges can be summarised as follows:

“The Israelites had turned away from God. So God had allowed _______, the king of _______, to conquer Israel. But after _______ years of subjugation, the Israelites turn back to God and He raises up a deliverer, called _______.”


1st August 2015
“The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.”
- The Watchman
2 Kings 9:20 (NIV)
“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (HCSB)

I find it strangely heartwarming that, thousands of years before the advent of the motor vehicle, somebody managed to get a rep as a crazy driver.

Cred Where Cred is Due

Thanks to Michael for suggesting this one.

18th July 2015
“Even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”
- Tobiah the Ammonite
Nehemiah 4:3 (HCSB)
“When a hand creates a thing, the thing becomes the fingers.
When a mouth mocks a made thing, it really mocks the maker.”

The story of the book of Nehemiah revolves around one thing: building a wall.

After being exiled for many years, a remnant of the Jewish people returns to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. First and foremost, they need to build a wall. A big wall. The City Wall. And so they begin.

But no story is complete without a bad guy.

Enter Tobiah the Ammonite, Geshem the Arab, and Sanballat the Horonite. Each one of these guys bears a badass name and a grudge. They want the work to stop, and they’ll stop at nothing to stop it. But between their plots and schemes, these villains like nothing better than to sit back and hurl verbal abuse at the workers.

“What are these pathetic Jews doing?” asks Sanballat the Horonite. “Can they ever finish it?”

Beside him, Tobiah the Ammonite one-ups the Horonite, saying “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”

And I didn’t even know they had foxes in the Middle East. The more you know.

A Side Note

In the end, the Jews finish the wall in an incredible fifty-two days. But it turns out having a wall doesn’t fix all the problems of Jerusalem’s returned citizens. Things ain’t peachy. They might be able to rebuild a wall, but can they rebuild their hearts? And that’s actually where the story ends. It’s a kind of cliffhanger, I guess. In fact, chronologically, this story is the end of the Old Testament. What a terrible ending!

But about four hundred years later, the cliffhanger finally sees some resolution, when some kid named Jesus is born in a feeding trough…

6th June 2015
“My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!”
1 Kings 12:10
2 Chronicles 10:10

Tough but fair, Solomon (son of Dave) was the King of Israel at its peak. When he dies, his son Rehoboam has big shoes to fill.

And there’s a problem. His subjects are discontent.

“Your father made our yoke difficult,” the people say. “Mate, just lighten our load a bit and we’ll serve you.”

Rehoboam, still new to this whole responsibility thing, doesn’t know exactly what to do. Thankfully, he seeks the advice of the wisest elders in the land.

“You’d better do what they say, son,” advise the advisors.

But before the he effects any changes, the new king, knowing the value of a second opinion, decides to ask his old school friends what they think he should say to the people.

“Here’s what you should tell them,” they reply: “‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! My father burdened you with a heavy yoke? I’ll add to your yoke! My father disciplined you with whips? I’ll discipline you with scorpions!’”

If the meaning of the finger/loins comparison is not clear to you, let’s just say that Rehoboam would be claiming to be the bigger man. If you’re still confused, I’ll let this article by a guy named John explain further.

The bad news: Rehoboam decides his friends’ suggestion is the better one.

The good news: When he gives the speech his friends suggested, he does actually leave out the bit about the loins. He leaves the scorpions in, though.

The really bad news: After hearing the king’s response to their request, ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel secede and appoint their own King of Israel, a guy named Jeroboam. The kingdom is divided and at war for hundreds of years until eventually both halves are conquered by foreign empires and all their citizens exiled.

Nice one, Rehoboam.

30th May 2015
“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”
Proverbs 26:11 (KJV)

I don't usually go for the King Jim Version, but in this case I thought I'd make an exception. There's a certain poetry…

This insult isn't aimed at a particular person, which is slightly disappointing—and really, you could make a-whole-nother blog of nasty things said about “the fool” in the book of Proverbs—but the ugliness of the comparison qualifies the proverb for this page.

Directions for Everyday Usage

Step 1: Substitute “a fool returneth to his” for “thou returnest to thy”.

Step 2: Let loose at thy neighbour.

Cred Where Cred is Due

Thanks to Paul for suggesting this one.

16th May 2015
- Israelite Scribes
Daniel 1:1

Okay, this one might need some explanation.

I know what you’re thinking: Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful Babylonian king who conquered Israel in 597 BC! How is that an insult?

Well, yes, he was. But his name wasn’t really Nebuchadnezzar.

The name is actually found in two forms in the Old Testament: Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadrezzar.

Spot the difference.

While the former is more common, the latter is actually a closer rendering of the king’s real Akkadian name, Nabu-kudurri-uṣur, which means “O Nabu, watch over my heir”[1]. Nabu was the Babylonian god of wisdom.

While I’ll admit that it is only speculation, a few scholars have suggested* that the substitution was more than poor transliteration on the part of the Israelite scribes. You see, with the ‘r’ sound substituted for an ‘n’ sound, the name could’ve sounded more like “O Nabu, watch over the mule.”

* A van Selms, “The Name Nebuchadnezzar” in Travels in the World of the Old Testament (1974, ed MSH van Voss, p 225).

2nd May 2015
“There’s death in that pot, man!”
- Hungry Guys
2 Kings 4:40 (HCSB)

Next time you need to call someone's cooking abilities into question, this one may be of use.

Like all the best Bible stories, this one begins with “There was a famine in the land…”

The prophet Elisha has just returned home after performing some impressive miracles in the neighbouring towns when he asks his assistant to get a stew on for some of his friends. The lad goes out to find some ingredients, but all he finds are some “wild gourds”, which, hoping for the best, they chuck in the stew, even though “they were unaware of what they were”.

When the stew looks ready, everyone is keen for a helping. But after tasting it, they quickly change their minds: “There's death in that pot, man of God!”

Many readers and translators take this to mean that the stew was poisonous—which is understandable—but I think it just means that it tasted really, awfully bad. Either way, they wouldn't take another bite.

But just as it seems that dinnertime is over, Elisha adds “culinary salvage” to his list of God-given, miraculous abilities, sprinkling some meal into the pot, and making it fit for grateful consumption.

A Side Note

Directly after this incident, Elisha performs another miracle, in which he feeds a hundred people with a small number of loaves. Sound familiar? While feeding five thousand people is slightly more impressive, I think that if Jesus was in a band, He'd list Elisha as one of His influences.

25th April 2015
“Do not let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace.”
- Dave
1 Kings 2:6 (ESV)
Sheol: n.
The abode of the dead; hell.

Old King Dave is passing the throne on to his son, Solomon. But he has some unfinished business. This bloke named Joab has been causing a ruckus, killing some people, “avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war”.

Dave doesn't like this.

So Dave gives young Solomon some instructions regarding Joab. And it turns out Joab isn't the only one that old Dave has a gripe with. A chap named Shimei also gets a mention in the last will: “Bring his grey head down to Sheol with blood.”

Bloody hell.

As soon as Dave kicks it, Solomon (proving that he is just as much of a badass as his father was) goes straight out and—takes care of business.

18th April 2015
- Unfortunate Lads
2 Kings 2:23

In one of the more controversial stories in the Old Testament, Elisha is walking up to Bethel when some unruly youths come and have a go at him. Their insult of choice? You guessed it.

Put out, the follicly challenged prophet turns around and curses the lads. I imagine a fist was also shaken in their direction. All of a sudden—and here's the controversial bit—a pair of she-bears come and maul forty-two of them.

Okay then.

4th April 2015
“If only you would shut up and let that be your wisdom!”
- Job
Job 13:5 (HCSB)
“Even fools seem to be wise if they keep quiet.”
Proverbs 17:28

Job has a pretty rough time. Not only does he lose his family, wealth, and health, but to add to his misery, his friends then gather around and start telling him he must deserve it, and giving all kinds of faulty wisdom. How would you respond?

28th March 2015
“You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!”
- Saul
1 Samuel 20:30 (HCSB)

Personally, I prefer this quote left unfinished:

“Then Saul became angry with Jonathan and shouted, ‘You son of a…!’”

21st March 2015
“I was dancing before the Lord who chose me over your father and his whole family.”
- Dave
2 Samuel 6:21 (HCSB)

By biblical standards, Dave was a pretty decent king. When the Ark of the Covenant* was returned to Jerusalem, he partied his hardest, dancing practically naked in front of the procession. Because why not?

The first caustic words in this story come from Michal, Dave's wife, who just happened to be the daughter of the last (failed) king, Saul.

“How the king of Israel honoured himself today!” she remarks, without a hint of sarcasm.

Dave responds how any man of character and position would when facing criticism: he insults her family.

“I was dancing for God who—by the way—chose me over yo’ daddy. And all his family. Like, to be king. So there.”

After a short speech about humility and stuff, the final dagger in this triptych actually comes from the author. To cap off the story he remarks very matter-of-factly “And Saul’s daughter Michal had no child to the day of her death.”


* Basically a wooden box with some important rocks inside.

7th March 2015
“Do I have such a shortage of crazy people that you brought this one?”
- Achish
1 Samuel 21:15 (HCSB)

To set the scene, the not-quite-yet-king-of-Israel Dave is fleeing the now-king Saul when he comes to the land of Gath. Brought before Gath’s King Achish, and trying to avoid a confrontation, Dave chucks a Hamlet and pretends to be insane, “making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

Not only did Dave’s plan work—he escaped—but King Achish comes out with this delightful double-pronger, insulting both Davey and all the king’s men.

28th February 2015
“Everyone is stupid and ignorant.”
- God
Jeremiah 10:14 (HCSB)

We'll start off with some universal causticism straight from the mouth of God (well, through the prophet Jeremiah).

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