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TROPICAL FORMS OF SPEECH.

157

CHAPTER III.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE.

THOSE portions of the Holy Scriptures which are written in figura. tive language call for special care in their interpretation. Tropes many When a word is employed in another than its primary and various. meaning, or applied to some object different from that to which it is appropriated in common usage, it is called a trope. The necessities and purposes of human speech require the frequent use of words in such a tropical sense. We have already seen, under the head of the usus loquendi of words, how many terms come to have a variety of meanings. Some words lose their primary signification altogether, and are employed only in a secondary or acquired sense. Most words in every language have been used or are capable of being used in this way. And very many words have so long and so constantly maintained a figurative sense that their primary meaning has become obsolete and forgotten. How few remember that the word lav denotes that which is laid ; or that the common expressions right and wrong, which have almost exclusively a moral import, originally signified straight and crooked. Other words are so commonly used in a twofold sense that we immediately note when they are employed literally and when figuratively. When James, Cephas, and John are called pillars of the Church (Gal. ii, 9), we see at once that the word pillars is a metaphor. And when the Church itself is said to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. ii, 20), we know that a figure, the image of a house or temple, is meant to be depicted before the mind.

The origin of figures of speech has been generally attributed to the poverty of languages in their earliest stages. Origin and neThe scarcity of words required the use of one and the cessity of figursame word in a variety of meanings. “No language,” ative language. says Blair, “is so copious as to have a separate word for every separate idea. Men naturally sought to abridge this labour of multiplying words ad infinitum ; and, in order to lay less burden on their memories, made one word, which they had already appropriated to a certain idea or object, stand also for some other idea or object

From the Greek Tpotós, a turn or change of language ; that is, a word turned from its primary usage to another meaning.

between which and the primary one they found or fancied some relation."

But it is not solely in the scarcity of words that we are to find the origin of figurative language. The natural operations of the human mind prompt men to trace analogies and make comparisons. Pleasing emotions are excited and the imagination is gratified by the use of metaphors and similes. Were we to suppose a language sufficiently copious in words to express all possible conceptions, the human mind would still require us to compare and contrast our concepts, and such a procedure would soon necessitate a variety of figures of speech. So much of our knowledge is acquired through the senses, that all our abstract ideas and our spiritual language have a material basis. It is remarkable to what an extent the language of common life is made up of metaphors, the origin of which has become largely if not altogether forgotten.

The principal sources of the figurative language of the Bible are Source of scrip- the physical features of the Holy Land, the habits and tural imagery. customs of its ancient tribes, and the forms of Israelitish worship. All these sources should, accordingly, be closely studied in order to the interpretation of the figurative portions of the Scriptures. As we discern a divine providence in the use of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek as the languages of God's inspired revelation, and as we believe that the progeny of Abraham through Jacob were the divinely chosen people to receive and guard the oracles of God, so may we also believe that the Land of Promise was an essential element in the process of developing and perfecting the rhetorical form of the sacred records. “It is neither fiction nor extravagance,” says Thomson, “ to call this land a microcosma little world in itself, embracing everything which in the thought of the Creator would be needed in developing the language of the kingdom of heaven. Nor is it easy to see how the end sought could have been reached at all without just such a land, furnished and fitted up, as this was, by the overruling providence of God. All were needed-mountain and valley, hill and plain, lake and river, sea and sky, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, trees, shrubs, and flowers, beasts and birds, men and women, tribes and nations, governments and religions false and true, and other things innumerable; none of which could be spared. Think, if you can, of a Bible with all these left out, or others essentially different substituted in their place-a Bible without patriarch or pilgrimage, with no bondage in Egypt, or deliverance therefrom, no Red Sea, no Sinai with its miracles, no wilderness of wandering with all the

*Rhetoric, Lecture xiv, On the Origin and Nature of Figurative Language.

NO SPECIFIC RULES.

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included scenes and associated incidents; without a Jordan with a Canaan over against it, or a Dead Sea with Sodom beneath it; no Moriah with its temple, no Zion with palaces, nor Hinnom below, with the fire and the worm that never die. Whence could have come our divine songs and psalms, if the sacred poets had lived in a land without mountain or valley, where were no plains covered over with corn, no fields clothed with green, no hills planted with the olive, the fig, and the vine? All are needed, and all do good service, from the oaks of Bashan and the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall. The tiny mustard-seed has its moral, and lilies their lessons. Thorns and thistles utter admonitions, and revive sad memories. The sheep and the fold, the shepherd and his dog, the ass and his owner, the ox and his goad, the camel and his burden, the horse with neck clothed with thunder; lions that roar, wolves that raven, foxes that destroy, harts panting for water brooks, and roes feeding among lilies, doves in their windows, sparrows on the housetop, storks in the heavens, eagles hasting to their prey; things great and small; the busy bee improving each shining hour, and the careful ant laying up store in harvest-nothing too large to serve, too small to aid. These are merely random specimens out of a world of rich materials; but we must not forget that they are all found in this land where the dialect of God's spiritual kingdom was to be taught and spoken.

It is scarcely necessary, and, indeed, quite impracticable, to lay down specific rules for determining when language is

Specific used figuratively and when literally. It is an old and unnecessary and oft-repeated hermeneutical principle that words should impracticable. be understood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity. It should be observed, however, that this principle, when reduced to practice, becomes simply an appeal to every man's rational judgment. And what to one seems very absurd and improbable may be to another altogether simple and self-consistent. Some expositors have claimed to see necessity for departing from the literal sense where others saw none, and it seems impossible to establish any fixed rule that will govern in all cases. Reference must be had to the general character and style of the particular book, to the plan and purpose of the author, and to the context and scope of the particular passage in question. Especially should strict regard be had to the usage

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* The Physical Basis of our Spiritual Language; by W. M. Thomson, in the Bibliotheca Sacra for January, 1872. Compare the same author's articles on The Natural Basis of our Spiritual Language in the same periodical for Jan., 1873; Jan., 1874; Jan., 1875; July, 1876; and Jan., 1877.

of the sacred writers, as determined by a thorough collation and comparison of all parallel passages. The same general principles, by which we ascertain the grammatico-historical sense, apply also to the interpretation of figurative language, and it should never be forgotten that the figurative portions of the Bible are as certain and truthful as the most prosaic chapters. Metaphors, allegories, parables, and symbols are divinely chosen forms of setting forth the oracles of God, and we must not suppose their meaning to be 80 vague and uncertain as to be past finding out. In the main, we believe the figurative parts of the Scriptures are not so difficult to understand as many have imagined. By a careful and judicious discrimination the interpreter should aim to determine the character and purport of each particular trope, and explain it in harmony with the common laws of language, and the author's context, scope, and plan.

Figures of speech have been distributed into two great classes, Figures of words figures of words and figures of thought. The distincand igures of tion is an easy one in that a figure of words is one in thought.

which the image or resemblance is confined to a single word, whereas a figure of thought may require for its expression a great many words and sentences. Metaphor and metonomy are figures of words, in which the comparison is reduced to a single expression, as when, characterizing Herod, Jesus said, “Go and say to that fox” (Luke xiii, 32). In Psalm xviii, 2, we find seven figures of words crowded into a single verse: “Jehovah, my rock (yso), and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock ('718) – I will seek refuge in him ;-my shield and horn of my salvation, my height.” Figures of thought, on the other hand, are seen in similes, allegories, and parables, where no single word will suffice to convey the idea intended, but an entire passage or section must be taken together. But this classification of figures will be of little value in the study of the figurative language of the Scriptures.

All figures of speech are founded upon some resemblance or relation which different objects bear to one another, and it often happens, in rapid and brilliant style, that a cause is put for its effect, or an effect for its cause; or the name of a subject is used when only some adjunct or associated circumstance is intended. This figure Metonymy of speech is called Metonymy, from the Greek pustá, cause and effect. denoting change, and óvoua, a name. Such change and substitution of one name for another give language a forces and impressiveness not otherwise attainable. Thus, Job is represented as saying, “My arrow is incurable” (Job xxxiv, 6); where by airroro is evidently meant a wound caused by an arrow, and alluss ion is

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made to chapter vi, 4, where the bitter afflictions of Job are represented as caused by the arrows of the Almighty. So again in Luke xvi, 29 and xxiv, 27, Moses and the prophets are used for the writings of which they were the authors. The name of a patriarch is sometimes used when his posterity is intended (Gen. ix, 27, Amos vii, 9). In Gen. xlv, 21; Num. iii, 16; Deut. xvii, 6, the word mouth is used for saying or commandment which issues from one's mouth. “ According to the mouth (order or command) of Pharaoh.” "According to the mouth (word) of Jehovah." “At the mouth (word, testimony) of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the dying one (non, the one appointed to die, or worthy of death,) be put to death.” The words lip and tongue are used in a similar way in Prov. xii, 19, and frequently. “The lip of truth shall be established forever; but only for a moment [Heb. until I shall wink] the tongue of falsehood." Comp. Prov. xvii, 7; xxv, 15. In Ezekiel xxiii, 29, “ They shall take away all thy labour, and leave thee naked,” the word labour is used instead of earnings or results of labour. All such cases of metonymy-and examples might be multiplied indefinitely—are commonly classified under the head of Metonymy of cause and effect. To this same class belong also such passages as Exod. vii, 19, where, instead of vessels, the names of the materials of which they were made are used : “Stretch out thy hand over the waters of Egypt ... and there shall be blood in all the land of Egypt, both in wood and in stone;" that is, in wooden vessels and stone reservoirs.

Another use of this figure occurs where some adjunct, associated idea, or circumstance is put for the main subject, and vice

Metonymy of versa. Thus, in Lev. xix, 32, npr, gray hair, hoariness, subject and adis used for a person of advanced age: “Thou shalt rise funct. up before the hoary head.” Comp. Gen. xlii, 38: “Ye will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to the grave.” When Moses commands the elders of Israel to take a lamb according to their families and “kill the passover” (Exod. xii, 21), he evidently uses the word passover for the paschal lamb. In Hosea i, 2, it is written: “The land has grievously committed whoredom.” Here the word land is used by metonymy for the Israelitish people dwelling in the land. So also, in Matt. iii, 5, Jerusalem and Judea are put for the people that inhabited those places: “Then went out unto him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan.” The metonymy of the subject for its adjunct is also seen in passages where the container is put for the thing contained, as, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Psa. xxiii, 5). “Blessed shall be thy basket, and thy kneading trough

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