Orientalisms of the Bible

(Part Three)

In Parts 1 and 2 of "Orientalisms of the Bible", we looked at examples of passages in the Bible that are descriptive of Eastern culture. Those of us from Western cultures (Europe and the Americas), may not understand these passages, or even misinterpret them because we don't understand the culture of the times in the Bible. In this final part, we will study several more examples so we can better understand the Word of God.

1. Agree with thine adversary.

Matthew 5: 25 -- Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. [King James Version]

In the east, judges were not stationed in every town or city. If someone had a legal matter that had to go before a judge, they usually had to travel a distance. Once the date for court had been set, the two opposing parties, their lawyers, and the witnesses would all start on the journey together. While they were 'in the way', they would be able to discuss the case, and come to realize that going to court would only be wasteful to both parties. A compromise could then be reached, and then only the lawyers would have to continue the journey, so they could inform the judge the case was settled 'out of court'. Going to court was usually considered to be a shameful thing, which is why most cases were settled 'in the way'. It also explains why there was not much work for judges.

The George M. Lamsa translation of the ancient Peshitta text for this verse in Matthew is easier to understand.

Matthew 5: 25 -- Try to get reconciled with your accuser promptly, while you are going on the road with him; for your accuser might surrender you to the judge, and the judge would commit you to the jailer, and you would be cast into prison. [Lamsa]

Jesus was saying to avoid going before the judge if at all possible. God's Word addresses this subject clearly and concisely in the book of Romans.

Romans 12: 18 -- If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

Jesus was advocating a win-win situation instead of win-lose.


2. Flourish like a palm tree.

Psalm 92: 12, 13, 14 -- The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing [green];

The palm tree to which these verses refer is well known in the east. The palm has a perfectly straight trunk that grows to a height of 80 to 90 feet. Although it is so tall, the palm is never toppled over by heavy winds. The root system is so strong that, no matter how much the tree sways in a storm, it is never uprooted. Once the winds die down, the tree returns to being stately and tall. Also, the fruit of the palm tree is edible year round; it is always fruitful. [NOTE: This palm is not to be confused with the coconut palm, which most of us are familiar with.]

The analogy is very clear! The righteous are as straight and tall as a palm, with no kinks or crookedness. They cannot be uprooted, even by the strongest forces. And finally, the righteous are always fruitful. If we live our lives as righteous believers, we can be just like the palm tree.


3. Olive plants around your table.

Psalm 128: 3 -- Thy wife shall be  as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

Unlike the palm tree, the olive tree stops producing fruit in its old age. This happens after about 50 years, but the tree doesn't die. Little olive plants sprout up around it. They produce fruit and grow until they hold up the old tree, supporting it from the wind and other elements. In the East, children support their parents in old age, much like the little olive trees. To have children like olive plants around your table was considered a great blessing.


4. Covenant of Salt.

Numbers 18: 19 -- All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute forever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee.

II Chronicles 13: 5 -- Ought ye not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even  to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?

The covenant of salt is an extremely important concept in the East. It is mentioned various times in both the Old and New Testaments. The covenant of salt means that you have pledged or promised fidelity to someone. By eating a salted meal with another person, the covenant is accomplished. Even if the other person is a thief or a murderer, he will not steal from you or hurt you. To Easterners, breaking a covenant of salt means death.

God had a covenant of salt with His people of the Old Testament, and we also have it in the Age of Grace in which we live. Every day we eat God's salt, because we live by His grace. Some of us dishonor Him, however, and break the covenant by our actions and our words.

Matthew 5: 13 -- Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

In the Eastern household, salt was kept in a large stone jar on the floor. Every day the floor was washed with water. The jar would continually absorb some of the water, and the salt at the bottom would leach out and lose it's 'saltiness'. When the household reached the lower level of 'unsalty' salt, it would be tossed out onto the street so the jar could be refilled. The record in Matthew relates this to our commitment to God and His Word. Non-commitment is bland and tasteless. Those who are not committed will soon find themselves trodden underfoot by the world.

Colossians 4: 5, 6 -- Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be  alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

If our words are salted, they will be gracious and truthful. We will mean what we say and say what we mean.

The covenant of salt is a promise of allegiance between us and God. God has never broken His covenant with us, and we must strive not to break our covenant of salt with Him.


5. Heap coals of fire on his head.

Romans 12: 20 -- Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

To us this verse sounds like it might be some sort of revenge to take on your enemies. Dumping hot coals on someone's head sounds pretty serious, but in Eastern life it meant something quite different. In the village, not all households were equipped to start a fire in the morning. A woman who had a flint would start a fire, and she would place hot coals on a shard of pottery. Her young son would take the pottery and place it on his head, then go from house to house in the village, sharing the coals so everyone could have a fire. On those cold mornings, the boy was warmed by the coals he carried on his head. This verse is telling us that our actions towards our enemies should ‘warm them’ and is stressed more clearly in the next verse.

Romans 12: 21 -- Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.


The examples presented in part three (3) were referenced from Light Through An Eastern Window by Bishop K. C. Pillai. This concludes our three (3) teachings on Orientalisms of the Bible.