And why would they understand those big hard to spell words, metonymy and hyperbole? Because we all use both those figures every day. You do not have to know what they are called to use them. Just concentrate on hyperbole for a moment. Have you ever said things like this?
“You do that every time!”
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
“It’s so hot out here I’m about to melt!”
“I have a million things to do.”
“If I can’t have those new shoes, I’m gonna die.”
We know exactly what every one of those statements mean. It is no mystery. It’s not even difficult. So why do we get all in a frenzy over using hyperboles (exaggerations to make a point) when talking about spiritual things—especially when the Bible does it again and again?
Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Deut 1:28
Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. Judg 20:16
And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 2Chr 1:15
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. Ps 50:10
“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Amos 2:9
That’s just a tiny portion of the hyperboles used in the Old Testament, probably less than 1%, but what about the New? Just this past Sunday, our preacher began his sermon with the statement, “Our Lord loved hyperboles.” He then read portions of Matthew 18:1-22, where Jesus used one after the other after the other. And these are not even the half by a mile (aha! a hyperbole!). Here are some others: “Let not your right hand know what your left hand doeth.” “Go into your closet to pray.” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter Heaven.” Etc., etc., etc.
Even the common people used them and plainly understood them. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” John 12:19
Then we have Paul using hyperboles in his teaching. In Gal 5:12 about the Judaizers he said, “I wish they would go beyond circumcision,” certainly a hyperbole.
And here is one the denominational world misuses all the time: Paul said, I thank God that I baptized none of you save Crispus and Gaius, 1 Cor 1:14. Do we really think Paul was glad he did not baptize more people personally? No! The point was that because of what the Corinthians were doing with the matter of who baptized whom—making divisions in the church—he was just as happy that few could do that with his name. He would certainly have baptized anyone who wanted to be baptized if he had not had so many helpers traveling with him to do it.
Paul used an exaggeration to make a point, just as his Savior did over and over and over. And the prophets before him between Kings and Malachi. And the writers of the histories, and the Law. And the poets probably more than anyone. I recently ran across a book called Figures of Speech in the Bible. The hyperbole section included 86 “examples,” meaning just a small amount of the total. There must be literally (not hyperbolically) thousands of hyperboles in the Bible. And many of the men who used them are set forth for us as examples to follow. Yet all my life I have seen people try to take them literally, as if God had no idea how to communicate with us in everyday language, and jump on preacher’s for using something “that might be misunderstood.”
Why would they do that when they would turn right around and say to their children, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times…”? Maybe we jump on these things as our excuse not to listen to something we would rather ignore. That article I mentioned did touch a few nerves. But if we think we are well-versed in the scriptures, we need to be sure our objections do not make us appear otherwise.
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Isa 5:21