Biblical Sarcasm

sarcasm society

I come from a family for whom sarcasm is an art.   I was raised on it.  This particular placard hangs on the wall in my mom’s condo.

I have been called on my sarcasm at times.  In fact, I gave it up for Lent once.  It’s true!  I found my sarcasm had a large root of bitterness attached to it.  I needed to repent.  So I did.

However…it didn’t all go away.  Because there’s a time and a place for it.  Like the Bible!

Here is a handy working definition of sarcasm:


Noun:  The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
The above definition is rather benign.  Other definitions include words like a sharply ironical taunt, sneering or cutting remark, intending to wound.  Ouch!  I guess I haven’t found myself the butt of much sarcasm.  Or if I have, I’ve developed a thicker skin about it.  I’ve been teased about my height my entire life.  I think I had a friend who liked to call me “Stretch”.  Haha!  Funny, that.
How does sarcasm come into play in the Bible?  I have found the sarcastic voice of God twice in the Bible.  Both times in the Old Testament. Probably there are more, but the first I came across recently is Elijah mid-showdown with the prophets of Baal.  Tired of Israel’s wishy-washy relationship with God, he asks the 450 prophets of Baal to provide a sacrifice to their god.  The trick is that if Baal is God, he will provide the fire to burn it.  Not too difficult, right?  This is the final test.
1 Kings 18: 22, Elijah lays it out:  “I am the only prophet of the Lord, who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets.  Now bring two bulls.  The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it.  I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it.  Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord.  The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
All goes according to plan. Elijah tells the Baal prophets to go first.  Such a gentleman. Except the Baal prophets, it seems, have a brass heaven above them.  They call on Baal for hours to no avail.  Elijah, ever helpful, has some suggestions:  “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god!  Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” (1 Kings 18:27).  To which the Baal-lovers yelled louder and cut themselves, entirely missing Elijah’s sarcasm.

See?  Elijah, the mouthpiece of God to Israel during their apostasy under King Ahab, uses sarcasm.

 “Sarcasm is a viable form of communication.” – Susan Isaacs, Angry Conversations with God

The second time it popped it is in 2 Chronicles 18:14.  Again, under King Ahab’s reign.  Coincidence?  I think not. Here is the setup:  Jehoshaphat enjoyed great riches and high esteem, and he made an alliance with Ahab of Israel by having his son marry Ahab’s daughter. A few years later he went to Samaria to visit Ahab, who prepared a great banquet for him and his officials. They butchered great numbers of sheep, goats, and cattle for the feast. Then Ahab enticed Jehoshaphat to join forces with him to recover Ramoth-gilead.“Will you go with me to Ramoth-gilead?” King Ahab of Israel asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah.Jehoshaphat replied, “Why, of course! You and I are as one, and my troops are your troops. We will certainly join you in battle.” Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says.” (2 Chronicles 18:1-4)

So there’s a teensy catch here.  Jehosphahat, lover of Yahweh, wants to know what God has to say.  Ahab, eager to get going to war, has his prophets show up.  Every one, to a man, says, Yes, do it!  God will be with you.  Jehoshaphat, recognizing yes-men when he sees them, asks for a “prophet of the Lord”.  Aha.

The lone prophet who speaks God’s truth unflinchingly is brought before the two kings (2 Chron. 18:14-16).
When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?” Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for you will have victory over them!” But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth to me when you speak for the Lord?”Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed.a Send them home in peace.’”
In both of these instances, the prophets knew what the other party would do.  The prophets of Baal stubbornly refused to believe Baal was simply an illusion.  King Ahab would go to war anyway, though he would experience defeat.  Sarcasm can be a backlash against futility, a last-ditch effort to save someone from  their own stupidity. I use it more sparingly now, as I don’t want to wound people without cause. It’s a tool in my communication arsenal. But I do use it.  Like me reminding Zac about wearing deodorant.  Frustration comes because you know you won’t get through, but you try anyway – because you care.
I apologize about the bizarre spacing in this post.  I’m using Jonathon’s computer.  Lucky has temporarily cacked. Sniff! I will figure out the kinks and remedy them ASAP.

2 thoughts on “Biblical Sarcasm”

  1. ‘Lucky’ is so lucky, is he? I love when Elijah, after the prophets of Ba’al finally give up, digs a trench around his alter and has it drenched in water. Remember…they are on the top of a hill, so the water has to be schlepped up there by some slaves or something. Elijah prays, God lights it up. I can jst see Elijah mooning people, just to make his point. Makes me laugh every time.


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