Son of a Gun

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

In Psalm 127:3, 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
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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This entry was posted in Book of Deuteronomy, Book of Lamentations, Book of Psalms and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Son of a Gun

  1. venanzio@duck.com says:

    Definition of son of a gun . . . [is] sometimes used interjectionally to express surprise or disappointment. Examples of son of a gun in a sentence:  That son of a gun never called me back.  I had to bring the car to the shop. The son of a gun broke down again. First Known Use of son of a gun 1708, in the meaning defined above

    Van Brollini

    Like

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