the smitten

Exodus 12:12 goes like this:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.

It’s classic King James Old Testament; like every Gothic cathedral you’ve ever visited, it’s at once ornate and resplendent and petrifying.

Another good smiting occurs in Deuteronomy 8:22:

The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.

The OT is full of smitings. Most notably the mid-night killing of all Egyptian first born sons. But a smiting isn’t always genocidal; it can apparently resemble certain STDs (or bathroom molds?), and includes curses, plagues, punishments, and pestilences of all variaties. Though the word smite has been used in other contexts, thanks to King James we usually equate it with a blow of Biblical proportions.

Reading these verses reminds me of a visit to Mamaw’s one-room Southern Baptist church. I must’ve been seventeen or eighteen–familiar enough with theology to be arrogant,¬†young enough to be angry. Before baptizing my cousin’s new baby, the preacher made a call to the unusually-large crowd (most of which, in this tiny congregation, was my family) to consider God’s daily personal message to us. If our lives weren’t going as we’d hoped, he cautioned, if we were experiencing sickness or suffering, God was probably punishing us for a lack of faith. It was God’s elbows, nudging us back into his worship. I left boiling with anger at someone telling an already-impoverished community that they were sinners, that their suffering was deserved. But here it is, in God’s very own words (by way of a variety of scribes, politicians, and translators, of course).

Sesquiotica considers the word in all its etymologic complexity. Continue reading

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