People of the Middle East love word plays. We use rhyming phrases all the time, for example: Kul Franji Branji = which means “Everyone foreign is exciting.” Late night conversations outside our building with our neighbours are richly flavoured with these short sayings, proverbs and rhyme. It is part of the Art of Middle Eastern Conversation!
These short sayings can be a bit hard to understand at first. They say so much more than they, well, say. “Kul Franji Branji” speaks about attitudes to foreign people – they are exciting. It means a lot more than the literal saying “Every Frank is Exciting.”
Well, the people of Jesus day were in a very similar culture. Jesus used lots of short word plays. Oftentimes, the meaning is implied, rather than set out literally.
Living in this culture of speaking and wordplay has helped me to read the Bible in new ways. I was recently studying the gospel of Matthew and I want to share a possible word play with you. Let’s call this a Palestinian night’s conversation. It is a phrase we are probably quite familiar with, and yet it may be a word play, intended to say more than it literally does. Our phrase is “the sea of Galilee.”
The tribes of Israel lived in different regions. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali lived to the north, in what is southern Lebanon and northern Israel today. The region of Galilee was in this territory. The region was mixed and other non-Jewish people lived there too. The Jewish people called non-Jewish people Gentiles.
Isaiah spoke about the way the kingdom of God’s people would be captured by Gentile empires. But in Isaiah 9, he prophesied that
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1-2).
The good news was that the light would one day shine on those living in darkness.
First posted on middleeastnews.org.uk, a blog contributed to by westerners commentating on living life in the Middle East. Follow their blog for interesting stories, poetry, recipes and applied theology.