Figures of Speech – Sudden Silence
by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Exodus 32:15-35
I. The purpose of figurative speech is to add emphasis to what is being spoken or written.
A. It might make something more memorial, such as a parable giving a story to hang a teaching upon.
B. It might puzzle you or even startle you with an apparent breaking of normal grammar rules to make you notice a point.
C. Sometimes it is to express emotions that are difficult to capture in words.
II. Sudden Silence (aposiopesis) is in the category of omissions.
A. It is when a speaker or writer suddenly breaks off what is being said, omitting the conclusion.
B. Reasons for doing this?
1. The person doesn’t know how to finish the sentence
2. He might be unwilling to finish the sentence
3. There is too much emotion to finish the sentence
4. The speaker thinks the listener can finish the thought on his own
5. “Better imagined than described”
1. In a movie, the good guy says, “You dirty coward! I ought to ...”
a. Either he is not sure what he will do
b. He doesn’t want to express it
c. Knew that what he was thinking isn’t really appropriate
d. It leaves the listener to imagine what might be threatened
2. A woman is surprised by an engagement ring. “It’s beautiful! Oh! It’s ...”
a. The emotion is overwhelming
b. Words are inadequate to express what she is feeling
c. It leaves the listener to imagine the feelings
III. Sudden Silence in the Bible
A. Genesis 3:22
1. What would happen if man lived forever while knowing good and evil?
2. The implication is that it would be too horrible to contemplate
B. Exodus 32:32
1. Moses came from talking with God on Mount Sinai to find Israel worshiping a golden calf. He had dealt with the sin, but they still needed God’s forgiveness.
2. If God would forgive their sins ... What?
a. What could Moses offer? Service? Love? They already owe God everything
b. Besides Israel has already shown themselves to be fickle
3. So Moses skips that part and moves on to the “if not”
C. I Chronicles 4:10
1. Jabez’s prayer is worthy to examine in detail, but for right now notice how suddenly it stops. He asks, but he does not offer anything in return
2. What can we offer God, if God grants our requests? It isn’t that man can entice God or manipulate Him. There really isn’t anything we can offer in return that God needs from us.
D. Psalms 6:1-3
1. David is in grief over his sins.
2. He starts to acknowledge something about God, perhaps in contrast because he starts with a “but,” yet he never finishes the thought.
3. God is so much more than any man
4. David finishes instead with a question: “How long?”
a. How long will his punishment continue?
b. How long before God rescue him from sin?
c. How long must sin remain in the world?
E. Daniel 3:15
1. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, he offered them another chance.
2. Many versions add “very well” or “very good” after “to fall down and worship the image that I have made.” But it isn’t in text.
a. There was no point in Nebuchadnezzar stating what he would do if the three Jews obeyed, that was what was expected of them.
b. He probably hadn’t even given it any thought
c. But he had given thought as to what he would do if they did not bow down.
F. Hoses 9:11-14
1. Israel has become so rebellious that God decided to put the northern kingdom to an end - Hosea 1:4
2. Hosea is also angry with the people. He begins to ask God to punish them, but with what?
3. He hadn’t given the matter enough thought. He was too emotional. He had to stop and collect his thoughts.
G. Luke 15:21
1. The prodigal son never finishes his request of his father. We know what he planned to say in Luke 15:19.
2. Perhaps he is too overcome with emotion at that moment.
3. Perhaps the father doesn’t care what he would ask because he knows what he will give; thus, he interrupts his son.
H. Luke 19:41-44
1. What things that make for peace? They will never know because they were hidden by their rejection of the Messiah.
2. Instead tribulation will overwhelm them
I. Luke 13:6-9
1. Many translations add “well” or “fine” after “and if it bears fruit next year,” but it isn’t in the text.
2. The owner hadn’t given thought what to do if the fig tree suddenly bears fruit. He appears certain that it isn’t going to happen. If it does bear fruit, he doesn’t know what he will do with it
J. Acts 23:9
1. Paul’s speech caused an uproar. A great argument broke out. The Pharisees actually took Paul’s side against the Sadducees.
2. “Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
a. But they could not finish and say what should be the resulting conclusion.
b. It could be that in the uproar, they couldn’t finish their statement.
c. Perhaps they didn’t want to say out loud what that would mean, since they didn’t like Paul.
3. The Byzantine manuscripts have “let us not fight against God.” Perhaps some scribe thought to finish the thought. But the weight of the evidence seems to point to a purposeful Sudden Silence.
IV. This was a lesson designed to bring a deeper appreciation for what is found in your Bibles. But there is one more Sudden Silence I would like you to consider
A. In John 6, Jesus was followed by a crowd look for more free food as Jesus had supplied in the feeding of the 5,000 - John 6:26-27
B. Jesus then proceeds to tell them that he is the true “food” – food for the soul – but the crowd, focused on wanting a welfare program of free food like the when the Israelites wondered in the wilderness, just could not grasp what he was saying.
C. And Jesus didn’t make it any easier.
D. His own disciples told him that it was too hard - John 6:60
E. Were they going to leave because everything wasn’t going to be made easy for them? - John 6:61-62
1. Just what would happen if they saw Jesus ascending to heaven?
2. Would they then believe or would they still think it too hard?
F. It is the words that are important because they give life.
1. So many are focused on entertainment, food, benefits
2. But with the evidence right before you that Jesus is the Son of God, will you believe? Will you put every effort to move through the difficulties?
3. Isn’t it worth it all?
• “Figures of Speech – Aposiopesis (Sudden Silence),” TruthOrTradition.com
• E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible