|The last article described God's sovereign act of creation, control and sustaining of the sun, moon and stars. When God has come to the conclusion of His plan of the earth, He will change the sun, moon and stars, using them as "signs" and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth. Then, He will remove them since He will provide the illumination upon the earth. In this final article these objects will be examined as they are used in the metaphorical since. But first we must examine the claim by some that they are used as "dramatic hyperbole."|
Figures of speech, metaphors and hyperboleWhen an object is used as a metaphor, there is some distinguishing characteristic that that stands out about the object that the author intends to bring out in comparing another object to it. When one thinks of the sun, there are several characteristics that immediately stand out that can be used. The sun's enduring heat is one of these characteristics, so the metaphor of endurance and strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36). And the sun's light provides a metaphor of an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43).
Metaphor The term metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making a comparison. One example of a metaphor is Isaiah 40:6 "All flesh is grass." This is immediately identified as a metaphor for two reasons: (1) flesh is not grass; and (2) context.
What characteristic of the flesh is like grass – it fades, that is, it grows old, dies and no longer exists in the living world. It fades away, if you will, from the minds of the living. The word of the Lord however, stands firm forever!
A simile is also a comparison of one object to another and uses the words "as," or "like." Peter uses a simile when he writes, "All men are like grass" (1 Pet. 1:24). This is the same as our Isaiah 40:6 text, except Peter is using Greek so he uses the adverb "as," or "like."
Another method used is the allegory, which means "to speak in a figure." Paul says that Abraham's two sons are an allegory. One born of a bondwoman [Hagar], and hence, is of the flesh, and the other born of the freewoman, he calls of the promise (Gal. 4:21-31). The allegory is clearly explained. Biblical allegory will almost always be explained by the author just as Paul did. Notice this is different from the technique of allegorical interpretation which seeks to find deeper meaning behind the text. The one is clearly explained, while the other is lost in a gnostic sphere where multiple interpreters explain the same text differently and neither has ground to stand.
Another technique that has been talked about is hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech where exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. The word comes from the Greek compound meaning literally " to excessively throw." For example, in John 21:25 "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:8, "You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you."
Examples of the Sun and Moon Used as Metaphor
There are times when the sun and moon are used metaphorically, but it is the purpose of some allegorists to make any unfulfilled prophecy an allegory but leave fulfilled prophecy literal – an inconsistent way of reading. Dr. Gentry lists several areas where he claims an allegorical use of the sun and moon is used. He provides the following examples as "apocalyptic language" and as a "dramatic way of expressing national calamity or victory in battle:" Judges 4-5; Isaiah 13:10; 13; Ezek. 32:2, 7-8; Jer. 4:11, 23-24, 29; Joel 2:1, 10. His claim of "dramatic hyperbole," and "apocalyptic language," provides him license to change what the author intends into some perversion. It may sound good, tickle the ears, but the intent of the author is replaced with the intentions of the expositor.
I will first examine Dr. Gentry's claims, then cover the verses that use sun and moon metaphorically.
13 Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 Deborah said to Barak, "Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you." So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. 17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. (Judges 4:13-17)3 Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I—to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:3-5)
Judges 4-5 does not use the sun and moon at all. This section of scripture is cites to illustrate the use of figurative language. The point of 5:4-5 is that when the army of ten thousand men (4:6; 10), and nine hundred chariots of iron (4:13) came together in battle the earth quaked (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake") - as one would expect of a great battle as the great thunderous sound waves pound the earth. The heavens poured, and the clouds poured water (as in a great storm that quickly overtakes in violence and blood), and the mountains gushed (nazal, "to flow") as the Canaanite army left their chariots and fled down the mountain on foot.
The Hebrew army killed them as they fled down the mountain, as the Hebrew play on words using "flow" with "to fall," is used. The Canaanite army fell (naphal, "to fall") by the edge of the sword (5:4-5). The picture drawn is of the massive Hebrew army, so numerous that there marching made a great sound, which could be heard throughout the land- shaking the earth. The sound was so great that the Canaanite army with their battle chariots, stopped their horse drawn chariots, abandoned them, and fled down the hill on foot. Just as a gushing rain that flows down the mountain, so the fleeing Canaanites and perusing Hebrew army came down the mountain and upon the Canaanites and they fell by the sword. It sounds like a violent storm. Is this a violent storm or judgment upon the Cannanite? This is a real battle which results with the conclusion of the storm in death for the Cannanites and victory for the Hebrews.
A normal reading relates the great battle using figurative language, the picture that is drawn makes it clear what the figure of speech relates to. The context and the complete story make the language clear. One does not have to go outside the text to other sections to understand the story. And what a story it is! God is glorified and sovereign in the affairs of His people. However, the story is literal and the metaphors point to a real event. In fact, the figure is a repeat of the figure used in Psalm 68:7-9 and the great victory at the presence of God.
Isaiah thirteen provides an oracle (massa', "load," "bearing," "lifting," burden," utterance," "oracle") of Babylon (Babel or Babylon). The oracle marks the starts a major section of the book that deals with the Lord's judgments against:
- Babylon and Assyria (13:1-14:27)
- Philistia (14:28-32)
- Moab (15:1-16:14)
- Damascus and Israel (17:1-14)
- Ethiopia and beyond (18:1-7)
- Egypt (19:1-20:6)
- Babylon (21:1-10); Edom (21:11-12); Arabia (21:13-17)
- Jerusalem (22:1-25)
- Tyre (23:1-18)
This section provides a set of judgments against the nations listed above. Throughout this long section there are some nations with both a near and far prophecy. Babylon is one that has both a far judgment described first then the specific near judgment brought by the Meads. There are several things that demand a literal meaning for the following verses:
Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:8-10) .
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger (Isaiah 13:13).
What is the extent? (a) Destroy the whole land (13:5); (b) Punish the world (13:11); (c) the kingdoms of nations are gathered together (13:4).
Why? (a) He will punish the world for its evil (13:11); (b) Halt the arrogance of the proud (13:11).
How? (a) His angles will be gathered for battle (13:4); (b) All hands will be limp (13:7); (c) Every man's heart will melt (13:7); (d) He will destroy sinners from the land (13:9); (e) The sun, moon and stars will not give out light (13:10); (f) He will shake the heavens and the earth will shake from her place, or as some translate, move out of her place (13:13).
This is truly a physical event because: (a) there are no figurative identifiers "like," "as" used; (b) the context provides no secondary reference which might point to something other than its first meaning; and (c) the context provides the sense that the sun "will not give out its light" in a real historical sense (i.e., there is no immediate spiritual contextual link such as Israel left in spiritual darkness, etc); and (d) the earth is described as moving out of it normal place.
This last event should not be taken lightly, this will be a drastic change, as drastic as change possibly as that which changed in the days before the flood, verses after the flood. Before the flood an moderate climate, after the flood a realization of the full seasons.
But an additional reason for placing this section (13:2-16) in the future Great Tribulation with literal physical events is that God Himself "will cause to shake" (ragaz, "tremble," "disturb," "move") the heavens and the earth will shake (ra'ash, "quake," "shake"). This is similar to Matthew 24: 29. In addition, this section describes "the kingdoms of nations gathered together" (13:4). A new section starts with verse 17 dealing with the "Medes" and involves "the proud" (v. 11). The proud, not the world, because the "world" is feminine, whereas the "proud" is masculine and the pronouns "them" match in gender with the proud not the world. The proud, because that is the characteristic common with the Babylonians and the end time nations (cf. 13:19).
Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him, 'You compared yourself to a young lion of the nations, Yet you are like the monster in the seas; And you burst forth in your rivers and muddied the waters with your feet and fouled their rivers.' (Ezekiel 32:2)
This is classic simile using the words "you compared yourself," and "you are like." There is no mistaking that a likeness will result and comparative language will follow. So the Lord finishes the figurative picture in verses three through eight:
Thus says the Lord GOD, "Now I will spread My net over you With a company of many peoples, And they shall lift you up in My net. I will leave you on the land; I will cast you on the open field. And I will cause all the birds of the heavens to dwell on you, And I will satisfy the beasts of the whole earth with you. I will lay your flesh on the mountains And fill the valleys with your refuse. I will also make the land drink the discharge of your blood As far as the mountains, And the ravines will be full of you. And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud And the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you And will set darkness on your land," Declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 32:3-8)This is clearly a picture of a great battle. Not, as the allegorist claims, but rather, the thing pictured has a literal aspect: (a) I will spread My net over you; the fishing net spread over Egypt is a large company of men who will draw them up (v. 3) – a literal army (Babylonian Army); (b) I will leave you on the land; they will be left on the land (the picture is that of fish laid out on dry land – helpless and dead) as food for the birds and beast (v. 4); (c) I will lay your flesh on the mountains, the dead carcasses of the Egyptians will fill the land – a literal multitude of dead bodies will cover the land (v. 5); (d) I will water the land with the flow of your blood – a literal flow of Egyptian blood will be on the land (v. 6); (e) I will put out your light. A literal result and finale that God will cover the heavens and "sun with a cloud" – a literal cloud possibly from the great battle, a cloud of fire and smoke. A cloud so thick it literally "brings darkness upon the land" (v .8).
"I will put out your light" (literally, I will intensely quench or put you out) is literal. At times the phrase "I will put out your light" is used as a metaphor for death, but here it is clearly not. The sun will be covered resulting in the moon not giving her light and the stars of heaven will be dark - a literal event. There is no figurative use of sun, moon and stars here!
Jeremiah 4:11, 23-24, 29
In that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, "A scorching wind from the bare heights in the wilderness in the direction of the daughter of My people—not to winnow and not to cleanse, a wind too strong for this—will come at My command; now I will also pronounce judgments against them Behold, he goes up like clouds, And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! (Jeremiah 4:11-13).
It is clear from these two verses that the "dry wind" of verse 11 is not a literal wind, but a storm of judgment. Context and simile defines the what the cloud is. Verse 13 describes the invading army as "clouds" and the chariots as a "whirlwind." The Lord describes their condition as a result of the storm as "plundered" (v. 13). This is classic metaphor usage as the word "like" is used forming the simile. There is no mistaking what the storm represents.
The total destruction described in verses 23 through 26 is a picture drawn that Jeremiah's beloved city Jerusalem was a wasteland (tohu, "formless," "vain," "wasteland," from an unused root meaning to lie waste). It was empty (bohu, "emptiness," "void," "waste," from an unused root meaning to be empty) and they had no light (both the heavens and the earth). The meaning implied is that the burning smoke and dust has blackened out the sun.
Jeremiah looked to the mountains and they trembled (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake," this is a participle so it might better be translated "I saw the mountains, and behold, the ones quaking and all the hills were themselves caused to shake"). A picture either of a quaking caused by an earthquake or more likely a description of the large Babylonian army moving from the destroyed city through the mountains to the next city. The massive army makes a great thundering sound whose sound waves shake the earth.
With Jerusalem destroyed, Jeremiah saw no people left in the city (v. 25) and there were no birds in the sky as the loud battle moved them out of the area to safety. He looked and there were no more orchards in the field, they had been trampled down and burned (v. 26). All the cities of Judah had been broken down.
The sun, moon and stars were not mentioned here, and the darkening of the sky is literal. There is no indication that the darkening is an exaggeration (hyperbole), it is a simile.
Joel 2:1, 10In Joel, the context is a unique "last days" called the "day of the Lord." This is a unique day of wrath whose army "the likes of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them" (Joel 2:2). The use of metaphors fills this section as the author's poetic style and literary greatness leaves the reader in awe of the Word of the Lord.
1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near,10 Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness. 11 The LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it?(Joel 2:10-11)
2 A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations.(Joel 2:1-2)
The description of the day of the Lord is "darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn in spread over the mountains," describes a great battle. Hebrew is a pictorial language and God's use of the language, using metaphors and similes, makes the Bible – His Word, a masterful, wonderful work. This is classic simile as the word "as" (v. 2) relates. Verses 2 though 11 are an unbreakable section. These verses contain imagery of a great army's invasion upon the land of Israel. The army is described as devouring fire (vv. 3, 5), swift horses (v. 4), noise like chariots (v. 5), mighty men (v. 7). The section might be summarized as follows: (a) introductory picture set (v. 2); (b) similes drawn (v. 3-5); (c) invading army's characteristics (vv. 6-9), and (d) picture's completion.
The concluding picture's completion fills in the last brush strokes to the masterpiece. The conclusion completes the similes presented in part two (vv. 3-5). Namely. the "earth quakes before them, and the heavens tremble" relates to both the chariots and devouring fire's noise (v. 5). The "sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness," reflect the result of the dust and fire that fill the air in the greatest battle that will ever be (v.2). The focus here is upon the great battle and its result.
What the Critic Leaves Out
What the critic leaves out is Joel 2:28-32 because here the sun and moon's darkening is clearly do to literal "wonders in the heavens" (v. 31). This is the section that Peter quotes in Acts 2: 17:21. Joel writes:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 30 "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:28-31)
Joel identifies the signs and wonders in both the heavens and the earth. In Acts, Peter recognized the literal signs and wonders (2:12, 43), though not all the signs and wonders that Peter pointed out were present on that day. What must be identified are the signs and wonders presented in Acts two. What Peter points out as signs and wonders are: (1) your sons and daughters shall prophesy; (2) your young men shall see visions; (3) your old men shall dream dreams; (4) wonders in the sky above: (a) the sun shall turn into darkness; (b) moon into blood; (5) signs on the earth beneath: (a) blood; (b) fire; (c) vapor of smoke.
The phrase sun shall be turned into darkness (choshek, "darkness," "obscurity") is not one of the many words for darkness meaning, "setting of the sun," " dark saying," "a binding," "a dulling," "a cover," "thickness," or " dirty." This word has the idea darkness that is "unknown" or "obscure." The sun will turn from its normal bright self into something different, obscure. Likewise, "moon into blood" (dam, "blood," "color red") has as its root "to be red." The moon's color will change from its normal white to a reddish color.
The adherents of a non-literal hermeneutic have to "spiritualize" the cataclysmic events of this prophecy. What is the result of their spiritualization? Dr. Couch notes: "The national promises to Israel are reduced to spiritual fulfillment in the church. And the cosmic signs and wonders predicted by Joel (2:30-31) and quoted by Peter (Acts 2:19-20) must be allegorized. They did not occur at Pentecost, so they must be taken figuratively." (Mal Couch, A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, p. 146) . In other words, God throws away all His promises to Israel, the Church replaces Israel, and all the cosmic signs are just hyperbole describing some battle that never took place in the land.
The argument that the day Jesus was crucified the "sun was darkened" (Luke 23:45) can be brought to the table, but where is the "moon turned to blood?" Some argue that the phrase "moon turned to blood" and "blood and fire and vapor of smoke" is a battle reference that was fulfilled in 70 A.D when the Romans came against the Jews. But where is the judgment on the nations and the resulting peace for the all Jews. The nations were not judged in the "valley of Jehoshaphat" nor did the Jew find rest as a result of 70 A.D., in fact the Jew has only found grief. The Jew had not returned to the land that God had given them until 1948, and since then has experienced only pain.
Sun and Moon as Figures
As with all things that God has created, language is another object to be marveled. Hebrew is what is called a pictorial language, meaning that it is rich in imagery. The nouns are usually derived from verbs, which describe some characteristic of the noun. For example, the word Adam comes from the word "to be red" reflecting where he originated from, namely, the ground. This makes the language a natural medium for creative metaphor usage. So, with the Bible being "God breathed" we possess the recorded, inspired word of God. A text where He uses human authors to record and convey what He has determined mankind to know. What this means to us is that what is observed in both the Hebrew and the Greek, is a rich creative literary text possessing both narrative and poetry intermingled. The reader's understanding and ability to follow what is being said makes this book truly the best literary work ever.
Along with the creative nature of our Creator in the doctrine of inspiration, Scripture possess lots of figures of speech. The use of the sun as a metaphor was noted previously as follows:
Direction (either sun-rising: east; sun-setting: west) (eg. Num. 2:3)
An object of worship (e.g. Deu 17:3; 2 Kgs 23:5; Jer. 43:13 )
Something done openly or publicly, an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43)
Battle shields (as glittering or shinning, reflecting the sun)
A sign (e.g. of the greatness of God, Deu. 4:19); of God's control over it (Josh 10:13; Job 9:7; Ps. 74:16)
An object of measurement whether it be time (e.g. Deu. 16:6), limited time (Deu. 24:15), or space (Josh. 1:4)
The source of fruitfulness (Deu 33:14; Job 8:16)
Death or spiritual darkness. They shall not see the sun (meaning death, Ps. 58:8; or spiritual darkness, Mic. 3:6)
Longevity, strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36)
Sun used as a simile
Similes are easy to observe when one comes upon them. But the sun is also found used as a simile as follows:
And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. (Matt. 17:2)
His face is not the sun's light, but shines like that of the sun. The characteristic transferred to the Lord is the whiteness and purity of the sun (see also Rev. 1:16 – relating the sun's strength; Rev. 10:1).
As can be seen by this set of articles, the use of the sun, moon and stars as metaphors are for the purpose of associating a certain characteristic of them to the other object. That is the purpose of the figure of speech. It is not, as some say, a way to dig beyond the surface to a deeper meaning, a spiritual meaning which serves to minimize the plan sense for a higher lofty meaning that one has to go outside the immediate context to identify what is being said to justify their perversion of the Word.
The use of the allegorical technique was originally used to minimize the moral difficulty of the Greek gods, to make them more acceptable. One cannot do this with a normal reading. One cannot move outside the context, searching for uses of a word or phrase that matches their brand of theology or presupposition, then move that meaning to another context to justify some obscure point. One must always remember context, context, context!