In Jeremiah 5:16, we encounter an interesting figure of speech. It’s a simile. He writes concerning the invading army of Babylon that, “Their quiver is like an open tomb; they are all mighty warriors.” Martens explains what the 26 rainbowwriter means when he calls the enemies’ quivers “open tombs.” “Quivers like an open grave is a roundabout way of suggesting that enemy arrows are deadly, or that as the grave craves for victims, so the quivers of the bowmen crave for more victims.”[1] Because of a recent Hollywood hit movie most people are familiar with Leonidas, King of Sparta. When he was preparing to make a stand with his Greek troops against the Persian army in 480 B.C. a Persian envoy arrived. The man urged on Leonidas the futility of trying to resist the advance of the huge Persian army. “Our archers are so numerous,” said the envoy, “that the flight of their arrows darkens the sun.” “So much the better,” replied Leonidas, “for we shall fight them in the shade.” Leonidas made his stand, and died with his 300 troops.[2]

Interpreting images and figures of speech from the Bible can make all the difference in our understanding. Another event, said to have taken place about 30 years before the death of the 300, is similar but with a different result. Darius I of Persia led his armies north of the Black Sea. The Scythians sent him a message comprised of a mouse, a frog, a bird, and five arrows. Darius summoned his captains. “Our victory is assured,” he announced. “These arrows signify that the Scythians will lay down their arms; the mouse means the land of the Scythians will be surrendered to us; the frog means that their rivers and lakes will also be ours; and the Scythian army will fly like a bird from our forces.” But an adviser to Darius said, “The Scythians mean by these things that unless you turn into birds and fly away, or into frogs and hide in the waters, or into mice and burrow for safety in the ground, you will all be slain by the Scythian archers.” Darius took counsel and decided that the second was the right interpretation, and beat a retreat![3]

The bow and arrow has been a well-known instrument of war long before the patriarchal days. In Genesis six God took a stand against the evil and violence that pervaded the world before the flood. After 120 years of calling for a change in the attitudes and hearts of people, God took up arms against them. The flood destroyed all life except for those saved in the ark. When it was all over he made a promise never destroy the whole world with a flood again. Genesis nine tells us that he placed his “bow” in the sky. We always think of the rainbow that reminds us of God’s promise to all mankind. The Hebrew word used in this context is often translated as “battle bow.” In Zechariah’s prophecy regarding the coming Messiah (Zechariah 9:9-10), he calls upon Jerusalem to “rejoice greatly…behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the nations: and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

[1] E. A. Martens, Jeremiah, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986), 65.

[2] Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).

[3] Ibid.