By Marcia Hornok
Serious Bible study reveals God’s character and ways. But looking for God’s sense of humor, as well, has serious benefits. Perhaps He inserted 1 Chronicles 26:18 as a bit of comic relief, knowing that the KJV would translate it: “At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.”
In Part 1 we considered Mocking Humor, Sarcasm, Laugh-out-Loud Moments, and Battlefield Humor. My favorite example from this last category is the account, in 2 Kings 6, of Elisha’s messing with people’s eyesight.
ELISHA VS THE SYRIAN ARMY
The king of Syria suspected that a spy was in his ranks since his raids into Israel were constantly foiled by Israel’s knowing where the Syrians would strike. A servant informed him of Israel’s secret weapon: “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12). Based on the servant’s information, the Syrian king sent a vast army to surround the city of Dothan and capture Elisha.
When Elisha’s servant saw the Syrian forces, he must have done the math—two vs. thousands!—and panicked. So Elisha told him that there were more with the two of them than with the Syrians. When Elisha prayed that God would open the servant’s [spiritual] eyes, the young man saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
Next, Elisha asked God to strike the Syrian troops with blindness. He then volunteered to guide them to the person they were seeking (namely, himself), but actually led them right into the king of Israel’s hands. At that point he prayed for their sight to be restored.
The king of Israel got excited and said to Elisha, “Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”
Elisha said, “No, feed them!” So the king prepared a great feast and then sent them back home. The Syrians did not invade Israel again.
I don’t know if Samson’s exploits were more comedy or tragedy. When trapped in the city of Gaza at midnight, he escaped by simply uprooting the heavy gates and posts and carrying them up the hill (Judges 16:3).
Why didn’t the Philistines guess the secret of his strength? If Samson looked like most Bible storybooks picture him, his huge muscles were a given. He was probably of average build, and his long ponytail didn’t give him away. How ironic that such a man could be so strong! Nothing but his own lust for women could best him. When blinded and no longer able to see a woman’s beauty, he began to see God clearly.
God used irony to question Jonah’s priorities. How could he mourn over a plant that died, yet not care about 120,000 children (as well as all the livestock) who would have perished if Nineveh had been destroyed? (Jonah 4:11).
The book of Esther may contain more ironies than any other portion of Scripture. King Xerxes wanted to honor Mordecai and asked Haman how to do it. Haman mistakenly thought himself to be the honoree. But the actual honoree was Mordecai the Jew—whom Haman despised because of Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him—and Haman’s idea backfired. In fact, this event is the story’s turning point.
The entire book has a chiastic structure1 and never mentions God, yet that very absence speaks volumes. God can be most at work when we see Him least, and He faithfully preserves His people. The irony of Esther 6:13 is unmistakable. Haman’s friends and his wife, Zeresh, were not main characters in the story, nor were they God-followers; they had even advised Haman to build a gallows for Mordecai’s execution. So it is ironic that the book’s theme comes from Zeresh’s mouth when she says, in essence, “You cannot prevail against the Jews.”
Ironically, Haman was executed on the gallows he built for Mordecai, while Mordecai assumed Haman’s position in the kingdom, along with acquiring his estate.
Consider the irony in Matthew 28:11-15. While the eleven disciples did not initially believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, the guards at the tomb certainly did. And the chief priests and elders believed it, too, when the guards reported the resurrection to them; otherwise, they wouldn’t have bribed the soldiers to spread the misinformation that Jesus’ body had been stolen.
More irony can be noted in examples of extremes, such as worshiping the thing made rather than the Maker (Romans 1:25); those with physical sight being spiritually blind (John 9:39); the “foolishness” of spiritual truth surpassing worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20-29); God’s treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7); saving one’s life by losing it (Mark 8:35); the last first and the first last (Matthew 20:16). Can you think of more?
Jacob tricked his father by impersonating Esau, then was, in turn, tricked by his father-in-law, who had Leah impersonate Rachel. Laban changed Jacob’s wages ten times, but God compensated him by honoring Jacob’s genetic modification plan of using stripped tree branches (not very scientific!) (Genesis 30:29-43).
Joseph’s looks, language, and demeanor as an Egyptian ruler fooled his brothers, but he understood their conversations among themselves, so much so that it made him weep. When he finally told them, “I am Joseph,” they were disturbed. Perhaps he asked them to come closer so he could convince them by showing he had the sign2 of the covenant (Genesis 45:3-4).
David feigned madness in order to outsmart Achish king of Gath. He “scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard.” The ruse worked, and King Achish said that he had enough madmen without adding this one. (1 Samuel 21:10-15, NASB)
I don’t know why King Jehoshaphat agreed to King Ahab’s plan to join him in war against Aram and to wear his royal robes, while Ahab disguised himself as a warrior. When Aram’s king discerned that Jehoshaphat was not the king they were after, they didn’t pursue him. Ironically, a random arrow struck King Ahab in a joint of his armor, and he died (1 Kings 22).
Jesus was mistaken for a ghost. Twice. Once when He walked on the water (Mark 6:49), and again when He rose from the dead (Luke 24:37). At the tomb, Mary mistook Him for a gardener, and the Emmaus disciples thought Him just another traveler. He was not deceptive when He pretended not to know the awful things that had happened in Jerusalem that weekend (Luke 24:19). He asked, “What things?” in order to prompt their observations. Then He thrilled them with the best Old Testament survey ever given.
COMEDY OF ERRORS
Aaron tried to explain how the golden calf came about: “I simply threw [the gold jewelry] into the fire—and out came this calf” (Exodus 32:24). Yeah, right!
Poor Rhoda, the servant girl, was sent to the gate where someone was knocking. Had the authorities come to arrest all the believers hiding in the house? When she announced that it was Peter, the believers who were gathered at Mary’s house argued with her, even though they had been praying. They said she was “beside herself” or that she had, perhaps, seen Peter’s angel (implying that Peter had been executed). Meanwhile, the so-called angel kept knocking, probably wondering why no one would let him in (Acts 12:12-17).
Then we have men who lost their shirts—and more. There is, for example, the young man who, when Jesus was being arrested, escaped his own arrest by leaving his clothing in the hands of his would-be captors and running away naked (Mark 14:51-52). Then there were the seven brothers who tried unsuccessfully to cast out a demon in the name of “Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then he overpowered all seven of them, and they “fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:15-16).
Eutychus falling to his death while Paul preached well past midnight has a happy ending (Acts 20:7-12). Not a humorous story, but which of us has not fallen asleep during a long sermon? We can identify with Eutychus–-as well as with many of these true-life Bible characters.
As serious students of God’s Word, we Free Gracers love it and live it because we love and live for the Author. What’s more, we enjoy Him, and He delights in us and often makes us laugh.
Marcia is Ken’s grateful wife, serving with him in Utah where he pastored for 39 years and they raised six children. Now they enjoy 13 grandkids. Her latest work is a guilt-free Bible study of Proverbs 31.
1 Adapted from The Literary Structure of the Old Testament, David A. Dorsey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 1999, p. 163.
2 Genesis 17:10-11.