Vulgar Verbiage Inspired By God

The video above is an excellent example of not understanding how to interpret the Bible. If you have not watched it, i would encourage you to try to make it through the four minutes it would take you to watch him try to explain Scripture.

However, even though he is a terrible exegete, he brings up a good point. In six places, the original languages of the Bible literally read, “urinates against the wall,” and the King James Version alone of modern English translations renders the Hebrew phrase in a literal way:

  • 1 Samuel 25:22 (KJV) So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
  • 1 Samuel 25:34 (KJV) For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
  • 1 Kings 14:10 (KJV) Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.
  • 1 Kings 16:11 (KJV) And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends.
  • 1 Kings 21:21 (KJV) Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,
  • 2 Kings 9:8 (KJV) For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel.

If we look at my usual translation, though (the Holman Christian Standard Bible) we will see something very interesting in these verses:

  • 1 Samuel 25:22 (HCSB) May God punish me and do so severely if I let any of his men ⌊survive⌋ until morning.”
  • 1 Samuel 25:34 (HCSB) Otherwise, as surely as the LORD God of Israel lives, who prevented me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, Nabal wouldn’t have had any men left by morning light.”
  • 1 Kings 14:10 (HCSB) Because of all this, I am about to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam: I will eliminate all of Jeroboam’s males, both slave and free, in Israel; I will sweep away the house of Jeroboam as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone!
  • 1 Kings 16:11 (HCSB) When he became king, as soon as he was seated on his throne, Zimri struck down the entire house of Baasha. He did not leave a single male, including his kinsmen and his friends.
  • 1 Kings 21:21 (HCSB) This is what the LORD says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on you and will sweep away your descendants: I will eliminate all of Ahab’s males, both slave and free, in Israel;
  • 2 Kings 9:8 (HCSB) The whole house of Ahab will perish, and I will eliminate all of Ahab’s males, both slave and free, in Israel.

The question that i would like to pose today is this: why do our English translations make this translate to “men” or “males” when the Hebrew word for man is ʾîsh[1], the Hebrew word for male is zākār,[2] and the Hebrew phrase in the six passages above uses two Hebrew words, shātan[3] qîr[4], neither of which contain the word man or male?

Now in posting this article, my point is not to say that the King James Version is God’s inspired translation. My point is not even to say that the King James Version is a more accurate translation overall. My point is definitely not to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the Bible you hold in your hand on a daily basis.

My point is to say that this phrase occurs for a reason. What God inspired and literally spoke when the Bible was written was the phrase that the King James Version translates, “pisseth against the wall,” and not what the HCSB translates as “men/males.” So this leads to the question: why did God inspire a vulgar phrase six different times in the Old Testament Scriptures?

Before presenting an answer, in modern times most commentators won’t touch this phrase. Most either understand it as referring to “men/males” or simply state, “The expression wall-pisser . . . is a stereotyped formula which refers to all the male members of a household.”[5] Another commentary explains,

This expression is found again in 1 Kgs 14:10, 16:11, 21:21, and 1 Sam 25:22, 34, and though a vulgarism to Western speakers, it may not have been so originally. . . . Whether the reference is to every male or just to young children (so J. Lewy, HUCA 12-13 [1997-38], 100) must be left open, lacking information on sanitary conditions in ancient towns, as well as on public mores. The Talmudic opinion that the reference is to “a dog” (b. B.Bat. 19b), though adopted by some medieval commentators, is excluded by the explication of 1 Kgs 14:10 in 15:29: “he did not spare a single soul belonging to Jeroboam.”[6]

An older commentary explains much more fully:

The phrase משׁתּין בּקיר. . . is only met with in passages which speak of the destruction of a family or household to the very last man (viz., besides this passage, 1 Kgs 14: 10; 1 Kgs 16: 11; 1 Kgs 21: 21; 2 Kgs 9: 8), and neither refers primarily to dogs, as Ephraem Syrus, Juda ben Karish, and others maintain; nor to the lowest class of men, as Winer, Maurer, and others imagine; nor to little boys, as L. de Dieu, Gesenius, etc., suppose; but, as we may see from the explanatory clause appended to 1 Kgs 14: 10; 1 Kgs 21: 21; 2 Kgs 9: 8, to every male.[7]

It becomes clear that the consensus of scholars is that this phrase means, “men.” But i don’t believe that God does things carelessly. If all He meant to get across was that a bunch of men were going to die, then He could have inspired the phrase as translated by the HCSB. However, He didn’t; so, there is something more to this passage.

A potential answer could lie in the fact that Deuteronomy 23:12-14 says,

You must have a place outside the camp and go there ⌊to relieve yourself⌋.  You must have a digging tool in your equipment; when you relieve yourself, dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement.  For the LORD your God walks throughout your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you; so your encampments must be holy. He must not see anything improper among you or He will turn away from you.

For a man to be urinating against a wall, he would be relieving himself inside of the city (the camp). Therefore, when the Lord came around (yes, i realize that He is omnipresent), He would see a bunch of lawbreakers, and He would be forced to turn away from them because they are unclean. If they were to persist in their state of unclean law-breaking, they would die.

In the passages we are considering (excluding 1 Samuel 25), this is exactly what happens. God’s judgment has fallen on sinful, unclean, wicked people. They will die.

It’s not simply that they are men. It is that they are lawless men who practice uncleanness. They spurn the Law of God. They don’t care that God sees their improper actions.[8] God—as a result—has turned away from them, and He has promised death to them as a result.

And here is where i must ask you a personal question. How do you respond to the Law of God? Do you love it? Or do you despise it?[9]

If you despise it, God will strike you down in the end. So i plead with you today to turn to Him. Jesus came to earth to live the lawful life that we could never hope to live. He died the cursed death of a lawbreaker that we deserved to die. He took the place of unclean sinners so that we could be made right with God and be given a heart that loves His Law.

Place your faith in Him today and repent of your lawless deeds. Jesus came on the scene saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). The good news is that Christ traded places with you. Please believe it!

In conclusion, we miss something when passages are translated less than literally. All Scripture is God-breathed and useful according to 2 Timothy 3:16, and this includes the seemingly vulgar phrase used six times in the Old Testament about urinating on a wall.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Scriptura

 

[1] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, under: “376”.
[2] Ibid., under: “2145”.
[3] Ibid., under: “8366”.
[4] Ibid., under: “7023”.
[5] David Toshio Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 586.
[6] Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, II Kings, The Anchor Bible (no city: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1988), 107.
[7] C. F.Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Kindle Locations 37575-37579). Kindle Edition.
[8] If read in the larger context of the stories the primary sin isn’t even that they were urinating against a wall—necessarily—but that they trampled underfoot God’s Law and were extremely sinful. Urinating against a wall was just a colloquial way to state that they were unclean and sinful and marked out for destruction by God.
[9] I must point out that this does not mean that we are in sin for using toilets. Christ fulfilled the Law for us, so we do not have to keep the letter of the laws in Deuteronomy. But we do have to honor the Lord with every aspect of our lives.

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