The Holy Spirit is a literary artist, and in many places of the Bible, He uses literary devices and figures of speech. But this can make Bible study
difficult, because you have to understand the imagery to understand what God is telling you.
Pictures can be worth a thousand words and images and figures of speech produce powerful messages that communicate with few words.
There are several reasons why God communicates in this manner:
1) His message becomes alive and memorable, and
2) abstract concepts become tangible and easier to understand. A figure of speech communicates something other than its literal meaning;
however, it conveys literal truth.
Jeremiah 9:3 (NASB)
3) "They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, And they
do not know Me," declares the LORD.
When you see "their bow" what image do you see here? What do you think immediately comes to mind for the people of 600 B.C.?
James 3:3-12 (NASB)
3) Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4) Look at the ships
also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
Can you take these two verses literally? Is this figurative speech or does this make sense literally? While these two verses are not
figures of speech, what is James saying?
5) So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame
by such a small fire!
What does the conjunction "so also" tell you?
What image do you see in the figure of speech "yet it boasts of great things."
Did you notice a new image, "a forest set aflame by such a small fire," presented after the personification? What is James telling us?
6) And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the
entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
Is the phrase "the tongue is a fire" a figure of speech?
Is your tongue "the very world of iniquity?" Is this a good representation? What effect does this have on James’ portrayal of the tongue?
Can you guess what figure of speech are the phrases "sets on fire the course of life" and "is set on fire by hell?"
7) For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8) But no
one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
Do you recognize this figure of speech? What does the comparison tell you?
9) With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10) from the same mouth come
both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11) Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter
water? 12) Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
What kind of questions are these?