My favorite class when I was a junior in high school was Bible as Literature. My Dad was a Sloan Fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management and we spent a year in Massachusetts. I think the reason that class was my favorite was because I could understand the teacher! All my other teachers had such intense Boston accents, I didn’t have a clue what they were saying until about half way through the school year. That, and being from California, was like being a stranger in a strange land.
I was shocked that the bible could have any place in a public school, especially in such a liberal bastion as New England. What I didn’t know in all of my ignorance, was the incredible influence the bible had in language, literature, art, and music over the centuries. Many everyday phrases, like a stranger in a strange land are so common-place in our language, we aren’t even aware that we’re quoting scripture when we us them!
All of the phrases I’m highlighting in this post I used just this past week. Let’s start with a stranger in a strange land. The bible has a lot to say about strangers. This phrase shows up in Exodus at the occasion of Moses naming his son:
She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’ (Exodus 2:22).
The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Pharaoh was concerned that the Israelite population would rise up in revolt and so he ordered the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. When Moses was born, his mother hid him in a basket in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. Pharaoh’s daughter unwittingly hired Moses’ mother to care for him and raised him as her own son. Years later, Moses commemorates being a stranger in a strange land in the name of his first-born son.
My youngest granddaughter turns two this month. This is our granddaughter who made a rather traumatic entrance into the world. Thankfully, she is just perfect. I have purchased a number of items from Land of Nod for the girls over the years. Today when we think of the land of Nod, we usually think of a mythical place where we go when we sleep.
Nod was indeed a mythical location, but it was originally a place of anguished exile rather than of peaceful sleep. The very first few pages of the Bible refer to Nod, and locate it ‘East of Eden’ and it is where Cain dwelt after being cast out by God after Cain’s murder of his brother Abel.
And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden (Genesis 4:11-16).
Yikes! Sounds like the original scary stuff of Grimm’s Fairy Tales before the stories were sanitized for younger children. I’m sure the people behind the Land of Nod children’s products weren’t thinking of the biblical account of the land of Nod!
Here are the rest of the phrases I used this week:
- A drop in the bucket
- A labor of love
- No rest for the wicked
- Sign of the times
You can take pride in knowing you’re more biblical literate than you thought!