Why Scriptural Metacomments Matter

lexham-discourse-hebrew-bible-bundleHave you ever noticed that when we talk, instead of just saying what we want to say, we’ll often say something about what we’re saying? We use expressions like:

  • “I want you to know that . . .”
  • “It’s very important that you understand that . . .”
  • “Don’t you know that . . .”

Expressions like these are called metacomments.  They interrupt the speech by commenting on what’s about to be said, or what’s just been said. We could just as easily leave them out and say what we wanted to say—so why do we use them?

The interruption caused by the metacomment slows down the flow of the discourse, producing a special highlighting effect. Just think about when we use the English expressions listed above. They signal that what we are about to say is important information. Think of them as road flares or speed bumps, telling you to pay attention to what is just ahead.

Believe it or not, metacomments are also used in Scripture. The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the English High Definition Old Testament use symbols to mark each metacomment.

Metacomments in action

Let’s take a closer look at a metacomment:

In 1 Kings 2:36–38, King Solomon, adhering to his father David’s final instructions (vv. 2–9), commands that Shimei the Benjaminite be confined to Jerusalem in order to prevent him from marshaling support against the Davidic dynasty. In v. 37, Solomon threatens Shimei with what will happen to him if he attempts to cross the Wadi Kidron and leave Jerusalem:

metacomments

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Notice that the writer could have just said: “. . . on the day you go out and cross over the Wadi Kidron, you will surely die. Your blood will be on your head.”  But instead, the author inserts the metacomment: “know for certain that . . .” just before he states the consequence. This has the effect of slowing down the discourse and simultaneously highlighting the severity of the consequences Shimei will face if he tries to flee Jerusalem.

Another example of a metacomment involves the Hebrew phrase yn:∞doa} µ~aun “declares the Lord.” This formula is frequently used in the Prophets to break what might have been one long speech into smaller parts since the original manuscripts lacked chapter and verse divisions. Breaking it into smaller chunks makes it easier for the reader to process. But sometimes we find metacomments like “declares the Lord” used in unexpected places, like the middle of a clause or speech rather than the beginning or end. Placing the metacomment in the middle of the clause interrupts the flow of speech and highlights what comes next. Take a look at the use of yn:∞doa} µ~aun “declares the Lord” in Amos 8.

Amos 8 depicts the Lord’s impending judgment upon Israel. In v. 9, we read:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

The metacomment “declares the Lord” is unnecessary, since we already know from v. 7 that Yahweh is the one speaking. Inserting this phrase in the middle of the clause interrupts the flow of speech, slowing down the discourse and signaling us to pay special attention to the imagery of divine judgment that follows.

Annotate each metacomment with the LDHB and LHDOT

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament help you dig deeper in your Bible study by annotating each metacomment, as well as 29 other important discourse devices. These resources also include an introduction and glossary to help you understand the function of each device.

Last year we released Genesis–Jeremiah, and now we’re excited to announce the release of Ezekiel–Malachi. When you purchase the LDHB or the LHDOT, you’ll receive Genesis–Malachi; the remaining books will be automatically downloaded to your Logos library as they’re released in the coming months.

If you own either of these resources, you should have already received your update automatically. If you haven’t received your update yet, simply restart your software.

If you don’t already own the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament, pick them up today!

How Old Testament Writers Built Suspense

Think about the last suspenseful movie you watched. Remember the music that played just before something (typically bad) was about to happen? Imagine what the movie Jaws would have been like if there wasn’t that deep two-note dah-dum, dah-dum. Half the fun of those movies is knowing something is just about to happen. It’s the anticipation that often puts us on the edge of your seat.

We do something similar when we tell or write stories. Here’s what I mean. What if I were to say something like: “I heard a sound in the attic, so I walked upstairs. And as I was walking up the stairs . . .” What would you expect to come next? Instinctively you’d expect something surprising to happen right after this repeated sentence. The suspense is created by a linguistic device called Tail-Head Linkage. Tail-Head Linkage involves the restatement of an action from one sentence (the tail) at the beginning of the next one (the head). Repeating the information slows down the story and builds suspense because something surprising or important is about to happen.

The biblical writers use Tail-Head Linkage in the same way. In the Lexham Hebrew Discourse Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament the  symbol is used to mark each place  in the Old Testament Tail-Head Linkage appears. Let’s look at an example.

Genesis 39 recounts the story of Joseph’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife’s advances. After resisting her day after day, the scene comes to a climax in v.12. Potiphar’s wife grabs Joseph’s garment, attempting to entice him again, but Joseph drops his garment and runs away.

Although we expect to immediately read of her reaction to Joseph’s blatant rejection, Tail-Head Linkage slows down the action. Notice that all the content of the second half of v.12 is repeated in the first half of v.13. This slowing down of the story builds suspense and tells us something important is about to happen. In this case, we find out that, rather than letting the incident go as she had done before, she concocts a story blaming Joseph for attempting to force himself on her. This false accusation leads to Joseph’s imprisonment, setting the scene for his eventual rise to second-most-powerful ruler in Egypt.

The Lexham High Definition Old Testament and Lexham Hebrew Discourse Bible locates each instance of Tail-Head Linkage in the Hebrew Bible It allows you to get the benefit of seeing how these devices work without knowing the original language. Locating these devices and understanding how they work help you more vividly and accurately communicate Scripture to others in your preaching and teaching.

For those who have studied Hebrew or are comfortable working with an interlinear, the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible includes the Lexham High Definition Old Testament. Having both resources enables you to see the detail of the Hebrew and then what that looks like overlaid on the ESV translation. These two resources come bundled together with an introduction and glossary written to help you understand the function of each device.

For more information about the Lexham Hebrew Discourse Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament, check out these posts:

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever noticed that some Old Testament figures are given one name when they’re introduced and then referred to by a different name or expression as the story unfolds? Think of the various names and expressions used for God throughout the Old Testament. We know they’re used to highlight a particular aspect of God’s character, but did you know that the same thing happens with other biblical figures too?

Believe it or not, the biblical writers did this for the same kinds of reasons we do it! Here’s what I mean. As I returned home from work a few weeks ago, Bri greeted me with the following statement: “your daughter put the TV remote into the dishwasher and it got washed.” Notice she didn’t say, “Estelle put the TV remote . . .” or even “Our daughter put the TV remote . . .” She purposely phrased it this way. Why? Calling Estelle “your daughter” in this context conveyed a specific meaning: my wife’s innocence in Estelle’s action and my (genetic) culpability. The subtle but deliberate mode of reference was very meaningful. We see the same sort of thing happening in the Old Testament.

In 1 Samuel 9, we meet Saul, Israel’s first king. In all but a few places, he is referred to by his given name. Several times, however, the writer changes from Saul to king. Why? Changed reference devices most often highlight a particular quality of the person referred to. The highlighted feature forces us to change how we view that character in the particular context. This change results in a unique and specific meaning.

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament each use the  symbol to mark each changed reference. Let’s take a closer look at how it’s used in 1 Samuel.

In 1 Samuel 20, David and Jonathan hatch a plan to find out just how intent Saul is on killing David. The plan involves Jonathan lying to Saul, informing him that David has chosen to go to Bethlehem rather than attend the feast of the new moon, where Saul expected David to be. If Saul becomes angry at the news of David’s absence, then David and Jonathan will know for sure that David’s life is in danger.

In the climactic scene recounted in 1 Sam 20:24, we read: “When the new moon came, the king was seated at the feast” (LEB). As Saul learns of the reason for David’s absence, he flies into a murderous rage vowing to put an end to David’s life. He’s so out of control that he even throws a spear at Jonathan, attempting to murder his own son!

Is this how a king is expected to act? No! Each time that Saul is referred to as king, we find him acting very, well, unkingly.

The use of king rather than Saul highlights Saul’s role as king just as the climactic scene begins. This forces us to view him in light of the character traits one expects God’s anointed king to have. But Saul’s behavior in this scene is anything but that of a righteous king. Referring to Saul as king in the context of unkingly behavior conveys a specific meaning: Saul’s unworthiness to serve as God’s anointed king.

When we look at each place in 1 Samuel that king is substituted for Saul, we find that this occurs only in parts of the story where Saul’s actions appear less than kingly! As you can see, these changed references are exegetically significant, but they’re easily overlooked or misunderstood.

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and Lexham High Definition Old Testament help you to get the most out of your Bible study by annotating each changed reference, as well as 29 other exegetically significant discourse devices. We’ve included an introduction and glossary to help you understand the function of each device. The Lexham High Definition Old Testament is a terrific resource for those who haven’t studied Hebrew. It includes nearly  all of the devices marked in the LDHB.

The Lexham Hebrew Discourse Bible comes bundled with the Lexham High Definition Old Testament, along with an introduction and glossary for each database. These resources will be shipping soon. The initial release will provide an analysis of Genesis–Isaiah, with the entire Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.