An Unusual Instance of Potty Mouth

The three satans (adversaries) raised by God against Solomon in 1 Ki 11:14-40 are filled with echoes of some of the OT’s most famous characters. Hadad (vv. 14-22) sounds like Joseph and Moses, while Rezon’s career as an outlaw king (vv. 23-25) who fled from his master reprises David’s early career. The most complete set of allusions, however, are reserved for the rise of Jeroboam (vv.26-40).

The story of Jeroboam’s ascent involves Jeroboam, Solomon, and a prophet named Ahijah. These three correspond rather closely to David, Saul, and Samuel. Both Samuel and Ahijah are prophets from Shiloh. Both Saul and Solomon came to the throne by means of a prophetic anointing but are disobedient. Both David and Jeroboam are commoners who serve in the courts of Saul and Solomon, respectively, both are very talented, both become the object of royal jealousy, and both must flee.

The deliberate parallels suggest that Jeroboam’s rise is to be interpreted as was David’s enthronement, as a new beginning. Jeroboam can become a new David if he models himself after David (v. 38). But the most interesting insight concerns God. God simply does not give up – he is ready to try again and again to create a loyal people under an anointed ruler.

Now fast forward to the end of Jeroboam’s reign as it is narrated in chapter 14. Jeroboam sends his wife in disguise to enquire about the health of their son Abijah with the prophet Ahijah who originally anointed Jeroboam. This suggests a significant rift between Jeroboam and Ahijah over Jeroboam’s idolatry. When the unnamed queen arrives, she is greeted not by a word concerning the son, but by a word for the father:

Go, tell Jeroboam, `Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: “Because I exalted you from among the people, and I made you leader over my people Israel, 8 and I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and I gave it to you; and still you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments, and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes, 9 but you have done evil above all that were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and molten images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back;

The drumbeat of the first person pronouns in v.7-8 drives home God’s act in Jeroboam’s kingship. In response to this grace, Jeroboam has not only created and worshipped other gods, he has worshipped them in place of Israel’s God. This earns him the epithet “evil above all that were before you,” a distinction he will eventually share with Ahab and Omri. Since Jeroboam did evil, God will bring evil upon him and upon his household:

10 therefore behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every one who pisses against the wall, both bond and free in Israel, and will utterly consume the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone… “‘

Referring to the males of the king’s household as those who piss against the wall is a pretty crude form of self-expression. Creating an image linking the household of Jeroboam with dung is even coarser. This is God talking…or at least Ahijah’s prophetic insight of God’s state of mind.

In the light of God’s earlier refusal to give up, how shall we understand this passage? What might the use of these vulgar expressions tell us about God? Or if God is not the source of these specific expressions, what do we learn about the relationship between God and the OT prophets?

7 Replies to “An Unusual Instance of Potty Mouth”

  1. I see the expression “pisses against a wall” used six times:

    1 Sam 25:22,24: the speaker is David and the occasion is the incident with Abigail and Nabal

    1 Ki 14:10: Ahijah speaking for God to Jeroboam

    1 Ki 16:11: the narrator, reporting on Zimri’s destruction of the house of Baasha as prophesied through Jehu.

    1 Ki 21:21: Elijah speaking to Ahab in a prophetic word of Ahab’s destruction.

    2 Ki 9:8: one of the “sons of the prophets” speaking at the direction of Elisha to Jehu at his anointing.

  2. >>In the light of God’s earlier refusal to give up, how shall we understand this passage?

    I don’t think there’s a conflict. God refuses to give up on raising up a leader for the Israelites but He does give up on bloodlines for that leadership. As you said, David took from Saul and Jeroboam took from Solomon.

    As for the language He used, well we do say that He uses the language that we will be able to understand and that will have the most impact. Maybe it’s just how He reached Jeroboam’s obviously less-than-stellar mind.

  3. Maybe the Bible needs to be translated into l33t-speak so that today’s youth can understand it.

    /not serious

    Would “pisseth while crouching” signify females? (I’m thinking about dogs, here.)

  4. l33t-speak

    Well, l33t-speak would have to be rendered into Mogget-speak first…

    while crouching

    As far as I know, this vulgar reference is never applied to women or dogs.

    no conflict

    I don’t think there is a conflict, either.

    First, I think that this is one of those stories where the passage of time and the difference in culture are most clearly present. If God was in the habit of using vulgar language with folks who do stupid things in the first millenniuum before Christ, he seems to have mellowed since then. I would know… 😉

    Seriously, however, I am not only unable to imagine this sort of language in say, general conference, I cannot even think of a relevant parallel in the NT. On the other hand, it does seem to be generally consistent with some of the language of the prophets and the imprecatory psalms.

    David’s use of the phrase in 1 Samuel 25 reflects his strong feelings about what he perceives as Nabal’s ingratitude. Given the DH’s strong didactic intentions, the current instance probably is intended to convey God’s strong feelings about Jeroboam to us.

    I think that the idea that God has and displays strong emotions should probably be read as a bit of good news. In fact, if this is read as disappointment rather than contempt it’s more or less the other side of divine love.

    God’s anger is mentioned twice (v. 9, 14) but God’s anger is not his final word even for Jeroboam’s poor family. The boy Abijah is somehow pleasing to God and so escapes the doom of the rest of his family. And there is another king coming to straighten the whole thing out (v. 14)…

  5. In comparing recent translations of 1 Kings 14:10, I noticed that “male” seems to be the favored way to translate the expression.

    I also came across an amusing KJV-Only website pointing to KJV’s literal rendering here as evidence of its superiority over recent versions.

    To quote the website:

    “Those versions like the RSV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV and Holman that read ‘against A MALE’ are the ones that are not following the literal Hebrew readings. This is what GOD wrote and inspired in His words. God knows perfectly well how to say ‘pisseth against the wall’ and how to say ‘male’, and He said ‘pisseth against the wall’. Look it up for yourself.”

    (A few LDS commentaries suggest that D&C 121:15 is a euphemistic rendering of the same expression.)

    It seems that OT prophets and writers were more colorful, earthier folk than today’s GC speakers. I see this as a case of Ahijah’s translation of God’s general state of mind, speaking “after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24).

  6. recent translations of 1 Kings 14:10, I noticed that “male” seems to be the favored way

    Bowdlerizing wimps! Ha! Lightweights!

    Actually, I’ve talked to the some of the translators of the NAB. The impetus behind the gloss is to render the passage so that it can be read in liturgical settings without detracting from the message.

    OT prophets and writers were more colorful, earthier folk

    They certainly produced a more colorful, earthier God, anyway.

  7. Perhaps this turn of phrase, when translated, presents the ever-present dilemma for a translator – – whether to translate words or to translate ideas. Perhaps, the original Hebrew also reflects the that culture’s genius of circumlocution – – talking around a point, rather than saying it directly, i.e., talking in riddles. The capacity, and desire, to solve riddles was one element of “wisdom” in that culture. Also, while scripture was written FOR everyone, it wasn’t necessarily written TO everyone. There was a specific, immediate, audience, with its particular mores and folkways, for each book and/or part of a book

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