Sons of the Quiver

In my study of Psalm 127:3, I mentioned that the psalmist declared that sons are a blessing from God. The psalmist wrote:

“Lo, sons are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

A large family with many sons was like a quiver full of arrows. The word “quiver” in Psalm 127:3 is a reference to a man’s house. A blessed household is as full of sons as a quiver is full of arrows.

The word “arrows” appears in Lamentations 3:13 as “sons of his quiver”: “He drove into my heart the sons of his quiver [that is, “the arrows of his quiver”].

This expression, “sons of the quiver,” is a reference to Yahweh’s “arrows of chastisement” (BDB). In this text, God is compared to a skilled warrior who takes an arrow from his quiver and takes aim at his rebellious people.

The arrows of God’s chastisement come when Israel defects from its commitment to the covenant established between the people and Yahweh at Sinai. In the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-44), Israel is reminded of its obligation to remain faithful to the demands of the covenant and warned of the consequences of rebellion and disobedience.

Deuteronomy 32:19-25 includes a list of judgments that will come upon the nation as a result of their sins. Yahweh’s anger against Israel will be relentless. Yahweh will come upon Israel with the arrows of chastisement:

“And I will heap evils upon them; I will spend my arrows upon them; they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured with burning heat and poisonous pestilence; and I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with venom of crawling things of the dust” (Deuteronomy 32:23-24).

According to this text, Yahweh’s arrows will include hunger, drought, pestilence, and plague. This list is almost identical to the list of curses that would come upon Israel because of their violation of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:20-22, 48).

Thus, when the writer of the book of Lamentations saw the devastation of his nation as the result of their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, he saw the famine that preceded the destruction of the nation, the looting of the city, the devastation of the nation, and the death of thousands of people as the results of the sons of Yahweh’s quiver, that is, as the arrows of the Almighty piercing the hearts of his rebellious children.

The expression “son of” is used in many different ways in the Old Testament. At times, the expression “son of” can be used as a figurative expression to refer to things and to individuals having something in common or having membership in a group.

Below is a list of items which are introduced with the expression “Son of or sons of . . . ”

“Sons of the house” (Ecclesiastes 2:7) are servants born in a master’s house.

“Sons of his people” (Numbers 22:5) are countrymen.

“Son of oil” (Isaiah 5:1) is used to describe the fertility of a hill.

“Sons of fire” (Job 5:7) are sparks.

“Son of the bow” (Job 41:28) is an arrow.

“Sons of the exile” (Ezra 4:1) are the people who returned from the exile.

“Son of strength” (1 Samuel 14:52) is a valiant man.

“Sons of tumult” (Jeremiah 48:45) are the noisemakers.

“Sons without a name” (Job 30:8) are “a disreputable brood” (RSV) or “nobodies” (TNK).

“Sons of a fool” (Job 30:8) are senseless people (RSV).

“Sons of pledges” (2 Kings 14:14) are hostages (RSV).

“Sons of death” (Psalm 79:11) are people who deserve to die.

“Sons of the band” (2 Chronicles 25:13) are soldiers (RSV) or troops (NIV).

“Son of the floor” (Isaiah 21:10) is a reference to threshed grain (in Isaiah, it is a reference to the people of Israel).

I could list many more examples, but the ones listed above indicate that the expression “son of” was used in Israel in various figurative ways to express things that belong together.

I am well aware that an idiomatic expression in one language does not always translate correctly into another language, but I will try anyway.

If the Hebrew expression “son of a quiver” refers to an arrow, I wonder if the American expression “son of a gun” refers to a gunfighter.

Just wondering!

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to Sons of the Quiver

  1. Anonymous says:

    >My father taught us that by tradition the Hebrew archer carried four fine arrows in his quiver. Since he was skilled he needed no more for the purpose of that one hunt. There was no need for jamming a limitless amount of arrows.It puzzles me that coming here to America many religious groups are interpreting families having a quiver full of arrows to mean they must procreate limitlessly. What is your understanding of the Hebrew tradition of the number of arrows a skilled archer took with him? I am not opening a debate regarding capping family size. That is not my topic. I am seriously looking for historical usage in the Hebrew community. Thank you.


  2. >Dear Friends,Thank you for your comment and thank you for visiting my blog.In an agrarian society, a man would need many sons to help him with the work. In addition, people believed that many sons was a sign of honor and of blessings from God. So, the metaphor is relevant to Israelite society.I have never heard or read about a warrior carrying four arrows in his quiver. This sounds like popular wisdom to me. However, I will do some reading on this topic and if I find something about this tradition, I will write a post on it.I hope you will find other articles that you will enjoy reading. I welcome your comments.Claude Mariottini


  3. >Dear Dr. Mariottini,I'm so glad to have now this article in my hands. I'm 32 years old and I'm expecting my fourth daughter and I feel so blessed by God. Everybody call me courageous but I know they mean crazy, I can see in their eyes. One friend of my family said that in the Seminary, studying Salm 127, he learned that full quiver means 5 arrows and I felt so happy because since I was a kid I dream about have 5 cildren. I just wanted to share this with you. Thank you and God bless you! Fabiana Bastos from NJ.


  4. >Fabiana,I am so glad you enjoyed my post. God bless you as you prepare to receive your new daughter. Children are blessings from God and you are a blessed mother.Let me know when your daughter is born.Claude Mariottini


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