Trash talking

“Smoldering stumps” (Isaiah 7:4): More biblical trash talking

King Ahaz of Judah is worried.  His two rivals to the north, Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel had allied against him, probably to force him into their anti-Assyrian alliance.  The whole nation is fearful, and their hearts are shaking like the “trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isa. 7:2).

So, YHWH sends the prophet Isaiah to calm Ahaz’s nerves, telling Isaiah to talk trash about Rezin and Pekah: “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of those two smoldering stumps of firebrands” (Isa. 7:4).  Yes, I know, “smoldering stumps” loses something in translation (and in the Hebrew there’s no illiteration), but would you expect God to be an expert trash talker?  We can at least give YHWH credit for picking up the tree imagery (stumps, shaking trees) from verse 2 (although that came from the narrator).

But isn’t trash talking supposed to be targeted directly at the insulted party?  Usually, but not always.  As we know from the world of modern sports, when a competitor insults his or her opponent indirectly, it often finds it’s way to their ears (now this happens through the news media).  Trash talking has a dual purpose, to intimidate a foe and to encourage a friend (or oneself).  Here, Ahab needs help.  So, God tells him he doesn’t need to worry about Rezin and Pekah (they’re past their prime, they’ve shot their wad).

Encouragement for Ahaz is given another way.  Interestingly, in this section Ahaz is twice referred to as “the house of David” (Isa. 7:2, 13), an allusion to the Davidic promise of an eternal ruling descendent on the throne of Israel (2 Sam. 7).  So, in essence YHWH is saying, don’t worry about those two losers to the north, I’ve got you covered because you’re a son of David.

A few verses later (Isa. 7:14), YHWH also promises that a young woman (or virgin?) will give birth to a boy named “With-us-God” (Immanuel). As Matthew’s gospel informs us (1:23), the virgin birth/God-with-us theme fits nicely with the birth of Jesus, but a wait of over 700 years for Jesus wouldn’t be particularly encouraging for poor Ahaz who needs help now, so presumably the Immanuel prediction had an earlier fulfillment for Ahaz.

If it’s OK for God to trash talk I assume it’s OK for us, so when should we talk trash? 

“I will strike you down and cut off your head”: Biblical trash talking

“I will strike you down and cut off your head.”  These words are uttered by the boy David to the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:46.  It’s hard to imagine the same person writing many of our favorite psalms (“The LORD is my shepherd as I decapitate foreign monsters…).  From Sunday school we’re all familiar of David’s highly accurate shot to the giant’s noggin, but the graphic ending of the story is often left out (I’m sure teen boys would love it).  David followed through on his prophetic trash talking as Caravaggio’s painting (1610) so vividly illustrates (1 Sam. 17:51).

I gave a paper on trash talking during the summer of 2008 in Oxford at the Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS).  (Although many Brits weren’t familiar with trash talking, there is a similar phenomenon in cricket called sledging.)  While David’s insult may seem shocking, he was simply responding to the taunts of the Philistine who called out to David as he approached, “I am a dog that you come at me with sticks” (1 Sam. 17:43).

As I researched the paper, I was surprised at how many places taunting appears in the Old Testament.  So, there’s a book idea–A Theology of Trash Talking.  I’ll be blogging through a few more examples of biblical trash talking, but I’d love to hear your examples, because I’m sure there are a few I haven’t noticed yet.  Where do we find trash talking in Scripture?