WFT- sternutation

30 January 2010

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for September 15th was sternutation.  MW defined the word as such:

the act, fact, or noise of sneezing

Here is the information they provided regarding the origin of the word:

"Sternutation" comes from Latin and is a descendant of the verb "sternuere," meaning "to sneeze." One of the earliest known English uses occurred in a 16th-century edition of a book on midwifery, in a passage about infants suffering from frequent "sternutation and sneesynge." The term has long been used in serious medical contexts, but also on occasion for humorous effect. In 1850, for example, author Grace Greenwood observed that U.S. senators from opposing political parties would often come together to share snuff: "And all three forget their sectional differences in a delightful concert of sternutation. No business is too grave, no speaker too eloquent, to be 'sneezed at.'"

 

You may be thinking something like "OK, let's see this guy pull something out of Scripture about sneezing."  Well, actually, Scripture does have a very specific reference to sneezing.  It is found in 2 Kings in the story of Elisha and the Shunnamite woman's son.

2 Kings 4:18-35

When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. He said to his father, "My head, my head." And he said to his servant, "Carry him to his mother." When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, "Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return." He said, "Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath." And she said, "It will be well." Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, "Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you." So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel. When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, "Behold, there is the Shunammite. "Please run now to meet her and say to her, 'Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?'" And she answered, "It is well." When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, "Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me." Then she said, "Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, 'Do not deceive me'?" Then he said to Gehazi, "Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad's face." The mother of the lad said, "As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." And he arose and followed her. Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad's face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, "The lad has not awakened." When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.

We might be tempted look at this and think "OK, so he sneezed.  So what?"  For this particular sternutation there are two things to consider:

1) The fact that Scripture records the event is an indication that it is important.  After all, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;" (2 Timothy 3:16)

2) Although we, as 21st century readers of Scripture might assign little or no significance to the act of sneezing, the historical Hebraic understanding of it provides additional insight to this passage.

Death

The Hebraic understanding of death teaches that the soul [Hebrew: neshama] hovers over the body for three days before departing and returning to G-d.  For Yeshua to be in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40, Mark 10:34, etc) would indicate to a Hebrew mind that there was no question that He was completely dead and His soul had returned to G-d.  For Him to then be resurrected would be a clear sign that He had been restored by G-d.

The same understanding applies to the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), the brother of Mary and Martha, who was dead and in the grave for four days. He was unquestionably dead.

Sneezing

An ancient Hebraic teaching about sneezing relates:

When people's sojourn in this world was over and the time of their demise arrived, wherever they were and without prior warning they would sneeze and the force of the exhalation would expel their inner soul and they would die. Just as the Almighty granted life by blowing a soul into an earthly body, a sneeze would expel that godly life-force, sending it back to its maker and returning the body to its previous state as a clump of earth.

Although we can look at the biological causes of sneezing and understand the physical aspect of it, the spiritual symbolism of sneezing is (in a Hebraic sense) one of returning a person's inner soul to their Creator.

Seven

Seven is often referenced in Scripture as symbolic of perfection or completion.

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary provides some examples:

In Scripture, seven symbolizes completeness or perfection. On the seventh day God rested from his labors and creation is finished (Genesis 2:2). Pharaoh in his dream saw seven cattle coming from the Nile (Genesis 41:2). Samson's sacred Nazirite locks were braided in seven plaits (Judges 16:13). Seven devils left Mary of Magdala, signifying the totality of her previous possession by Satan (Luke 8:2); "seven other devils" will enter the purified but vacant life of a person (Matthew 12:45). However, on the positive side, there were the seven spirits of God (Revelation 3:1). In the seventh year the Hebrew slave was to be freed (Exodus 21:2), having completed his time of captivity and service. Every seventh year was a sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:4). Seven times seven reiterates the sense of completeness. In the Year of Jubilee (at the completion of 7 x 7 years = the 50th year), all land is freed and returns to the original owners (Leviticus 25:10). Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, is seven times seven days after Passover. "Seventy," which is literally "sevens" in Hebrew, strengthens the concept of perfection. There are 70 elders (Exodus 24:1) in Israel. Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12) to complete its punishment. "Seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22) reiterates this still further. The Lord was not giving Peter a mathematical number of times that he should forgive another person, but rather was insisting on limitless forgiveness for a brother's sin.

For the lad in the story above to sneeze seven times indicates that the inner soul (the neshama) left the body completely and he was to be considered as entirely dead.  Another aspect of the "completeness" or "perfection" of this moment is the implication that the lad willingly surrendered his neshama to G-d.  This is not stated explicitly but is implied by the context.

The Emmaus Moment

In Luke 24:13-34 two disheartened disciples meet Yeshua on the road to Emmaus and He teaches them:

Luke 24:27

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

One of the reasons why all Scripture is "profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16) is because all of it points to Messiah and teaches us about Him. Our Emmaus moment in this passage about a sneezing boy is this:

Elisha placed himself between the dead boy and heaven and interceded to give him life again.  This pictures the future saving work of Messiah who placed Himself between a dead person (each of us) and heaven and interceded to give us life again.

It also sheds light the words of Messiah when He spoke of those who lose (willingly surrender) their life will find it:

Matthew 10:39

He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

This is pictured in the lad's willingness to surrender his life to heaven.

Unlike like boy who was blessed by Elisha's single act of intercession, however, we should know that we have a Savior who "always lives to make intercession for [us]" (Hebrews 7:25).

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."  (1 Timothy 1:17)

Last modified on 07 January 2017
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