Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 5 Page 3 May 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

The Biggest Word
In The English Language
Only Has Two Letters

Do you find certain words hard to pronounce? Sometimes the funny names in the Bible give us a hard time.  The longest name in the Bible is Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:1) (try to say that three times fast!). But that’s not the hardest word to say. The hardest word in the English language has only two letters? NO!

It is especially hard to pronounce when everyone is looking at us and wanting us to say “Yes.” It is tough to face temptation (something that would, admittedly, be fun to do), and give a firm “no.” The word seems to get stuck. The lips won’t cooperate. The tongue is suddenly, strangely, rendered mute. This is not a new disease. It is a sickness as old as man.

Adam and Eve had it! They were too weak to say “no” to the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-14). Many teenagers are too weak to say “no” to forbidden “fruit juice” (wine coolers, beer). In contrast, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshech, Abednego) refused the forbidden food and drink of the Babylonians (Daniel 1:11).

The Israelites were too weak to say “no” to the lust of the flesh in the wilderness (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Many teenagers find it hard to say “no” to the lust of immodest dress and dancing. Vashti, though, had courage enough to refuse both (Esther 1:1-22) and there are thousands of your brothers and sisters who have not given in to the world’s pressures.

David couldn’t “pronounce” this tough little word when facing Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-4). Many are too weak to say “no” to their boyfriends who want to commit fornication today. But, on the other hand, Joseph was able to say the word when facing Potiphar’s wife, even though it cost him his freedom (Genesis 39:7-23). Though teens say, “everybody is doing it” today, they are wrong! Christians are still waiting for marriage (Hebrews 13:4).

“. . . and scourged him . . .”

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Just three words . . . the mind absorbs them in a second and passes to the next sentence. The Bible gives no further explanation. There is no parenthetical statement or footnote explaining what it means. Most of us read over it for years without really contemplating that word . . . scourged. It was somehow a part of the crucifixion. Maybe we heard a preacher say it was some sort of a whipping. Oh, but it was so much more.

Governor Pilate knew the Jews delivered Jesus out of envy (Matthew 27:18), and that He had committed no real crime, certainly not one worthy of death (Luke 23:15). This cagey politician also knew that something had to be done. These folks were too worked up to go home without any action, so he decided a scourging might satisfy their lust for vengeance (John 19:1, cf. 19:5).

DEFINITION AND LIMITATIONS. These were not civilized people by modern standards. Today’s Humane Society would not allow a dog to be treated the way our Lord was. Scourging (or “examination by scourging,” Acts 22:24, 29) was a legal preliminary to every Roman Execution. It was a brutal flogging or whipping. It was called the “little death” and preceded the “big death”--crucifixion. Only women, Roman senators, and soldiers (except deserters) were exempt. History tells us that a criminal was flogged either by two soldiers (lictors) or by one who alternated positions. Under Hebrew law, he was limited to thirty-nine strokes, but Romans imposed no such limitation. A scourging’s severity depended entirely on the lictor’s disposition. The only rule for the lictor who scourged a man about to be crucified was that he must not die at the stake. He was to expire on the cross. He tried to bring his victim to the very verge of collapse, or death, without crossing that threshold.

INSTRUMENTS. The scourging post was two feet high. An iron ring, placed close to the top, projected from two sides. The usual instrument was a short-handled whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several single or braided thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at varying intervals. Sometimes it consisted of several thin, iron chains which ended in small weights.

PREPARATION. Clothing was ripped away so the prisoner stood naked, or at the most with a loincloth. (Is it any wonder the Bible says, “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame . . .” Hebrews 12:2?). The man’s wrists were firmly shackled to the iron rings. Then the victim was stretched, face down, with his feet pointed away from the post. The tension of awaiting the first blow was cruel. The body was rigid. The muscles knotted in tormenting cramps. Color drained from the cheeks. Lips were drawn tight against the teeth.

SCOURGING. Then it came . . . the whistle of the whip and the dull thud as it made contact with flesh. Then if came . . . the burning sensation and the first trickle of blood. Then it came . . . again and again, more rapidly, blow after blow. Then it came . . . with seemingly unbearable agony the naked back, neck, sometimes face, chest (as the whip was allowed to encircle the body), buttocks, and legs were repeatedly struck. At first, it caused deep contusions (bruising). Then, as the lictor continued in his well-trained methodical ritual, the thongs, sheep bones, and weights cut into the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and even muscle. After a while, the victim’s body twitched like a beheaded chicken. The lacerations finally tore into the underlying skeletal muscles and produced quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. As V.P. Black puts it, “They beat Him until His shoulder blades looked like two whitecaps on an ocean of blood.” The victim lost all consciousness to anything other than the blinding, burning pain as cruel whips whistled and cut, whistled and cut. The flagra was the literal equivalent of being flayed alive. It hurt so much that men were known to bite their tongues in two during the beatings.

THE RESULTS. After what seemed like an eternity to the victim and those who loved Him, His limp body was finally cut away from the post. As was the custom, His wounds were washed but not otherwise medicated. The pain and blood loss caused by scourging generally led to circulatory shock. Moreover, hematidrosis (the “bloody sweat” experienced in the Garden) had rendered Jesus skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, contributed to a generally weakened state. Thus, by modern-day criteria, if at that time Jesus had been admitted to a hospital, he would have been put into intensive or critical care (Mark 15:15, 20). The severity of this condition usually pre-determined that the victim would not survive too long on the cross.

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY. In this case, Jesus’ clothes were put back on the massacred back. Imagine how the seamless garment must have soaked up that precious blood. How uncomfortable it was to have that rough material scratch against His open wounds! As the blood began to clot, His clothing became stiff and dry. The Roman soldiers, amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, began to mock Him. One of them fashioned a robe out of some purple material; another ran out to a thorn bush and gathered some prickly limbs and formed them into a tight, pointed circle; another found a rod or stout stick of some kind to use as scepter. Just about the time His bleeding stopped, they ripped His clothes off and placed on Him a purple robe (thus opening the wounds again). Imagine how that must have hurt! Even an area as small as that covered by a Band-Aid. One soldier grabbed His head and forced the thorns down over His scalp. Think of the sharp thorns piercing His skin in dozens of places. Another took the reed and hit Him over the head thus driving the thorns in more deeply. How He must have bled! (So much blood goes to the brain that a small cut bleeds profusely.)

The soldiers finally had all the fun they wanted with Him and took Him back to Pilate. Pilate then presented Him to the people. Picture, if you can, Pilate leading this purple-clad Man, with scepter in His hand, and bloody crown on His head, out for these sick people to view. Pilate says simply, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). He must have thought that surely this would satisfy their hatred. But he underestimated them. They were no more satisfied than a shark that first gets the scent of blood. They wanted more. They wanted murder.

Why did Jesus go through this? He didn’t have to. He could have gone back to heaven. Why? Because He wanted to save us. Are you saved? Have you responded to His sacrifice? If not, he went through it for nothing, He still insists. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

Copyright 1999, conditions of use
Gospel Gazette Online
Louis Rushmore, Editor
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