SIGNS AND WONDERS – Part 2
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
How great are his signs! And how mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.
(This is the second part of a two-part article on the biblical meaning behind its frequent catchphrase “signs and wonders.”)
THE MEANING OF OWTH OFTEN EQUATES TO OATH
Given the history of the use of the word owth, is it not likely that the etymology of the English word oath connects to the Hebrew word owth (two words pronounced the same and denoting virtually the same concept)? I venture it is although I have not yet been able to verify it in several resources recently referenced.
As such, the conclusion appears rather obvious: tokens and covenants have a very strong affinity for one another. It is safe to say the meaning of the notions of oaths and signs go together like hand and glove, or smoke and fire (two modern catchphrases by the way, to clarify ad nauseam the meaning of catchphrase).
SIGNS AND WONDERS
The second word of our catchphrase, wonder, is the Hebrew word mowpheth (as transliterated from the Hebrew alphabet). Nehemiah 9:9-12 contains an important instance in which we see the catchphrase “signs and wonders” used (by Nehemiah) as he prays to the God of Israel.
9 And (thou–YHWH) didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;
10 And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day.
11 And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
12 Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.
Nehemiah emphasizes the issue of signs and wonders to remind his colleagues of the faithfulness of God toward the Hebrews. He highlights two of the most dramatic signs and wonders: the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. These were fearful signs and wonders indeed, connecting Heaven and Earth, demonstrating the miraculous power of God and the practical value of His actions on their behalf (that is, a guiding light).
Jeremiah echoes the exact same sentiment as he exults in the power of the Lord God of Israel. In a magnificent passage in Jeremiah, chapter 32, Jeremiah testifies to the greatest of God with these words:
17 Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:
18 Thou shewest loving-kindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of hosts, is his name,
19 Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings:
20 Which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day;
21 And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;
22 And hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.
THE TESTIMONY OF DANIEL’S GENTILE KINGS
Even King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon extols the power of the God of Israel within the Book of Daniel. In a section written in Aramaic (the language of Babylon), we see the phrase signs and wonders employed here as well. In Aramaic, the word for signs is transliterated āth (compared to owth—the sound of a long ‘a’ instead of a long ‘o’). Wonders is transliterated tĕmahh. The catchphrase signs and wonders was so catchy even the gentiles utilized it to express supernatural sights and sounds.
In context, we learn Nebuchadnezzar had just come through a bout of lycanthropy—thinking and acting like a beast (a wolf to be specific). Daniel interpreted the King’s horrific dream, warning him that unless he practiced righteousness and showed justice to the poor, he would find his sanity departing him for a period of seven years. One year after the dream had been interpreted thus by Daniel, the King waxed lyrical concerning his own might and power, and how he himself was responsible for his privileged position rather than giving thanks to the King of Heaven. Instantly, judgment fell. The king was driven mad and into the forests where he eat grass like a beast and was covered with the nightly dew.
But God was faithful to His word. After seven years had passed, God restored the King’s sanity and his kingdom. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar praises the God of Daniel, the King of Heaven. “I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are His signs! And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:2-3)
Apparently, Daniel had a way with the kings he served. Later, King Darius was persuaded that Daniel had a wonderful spirit within him and therefore, Darius entrusted Daniel with great authority. This caused envy among Daniel’s enemies leading to his being thrown into the famous lion’s den. After Daniel was spared death by dinner (his being the lion’s dinner that is), Darius the king was exultant. Despite Darius’ law being the cause for Daniel’s unexpected night’s stay amongst the surprisingly hospitable lions, Darius did not want Daniel to become lion’s food. Darius feared Daniel’s God. When Darius saw Daniel alive and well in the morning—like Nebuchadnezzar—Darius praised the God of Heaven with these enthusiastic words:
25Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied unto you.
26I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
27He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27)
In this case, the sign was quite another matter—supernaturally satiating the appetite of lions so they would not eat God’s prophet.
THE DISCIPLES WERE PROVEN BY SIGNS AND WONDERS
Just as the prophets (especially Moses, Elijah and Elisha) proved themselves by working signs and wonders in the name of the God of Israel, the disciples of Jesus Christ were accredited by also demonstrating similar signs and wonders. In the Greek language of the New Testament, signs and wonders was expressed with the words (transliterated) sēmeion kai teras. It appears as a frequent phrase employed by Luke in the Book of Acts. We read of four primary instances. The first instance: just after the Holy Spirit has fallen upon all those gathered together at the time of Passover (when there appeared as it were “tongues of fire”), Peter began preaching to the crowds and quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel:
19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know (Acts 2:19-22)
Next, we see how after Peter and John had been threatened to speak no more in the name of Jesus (having spoken in front of Annas and Caiaphas the High Priests, being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking eloquently of the works of Jesus), the new community of faith came together and Peter led them in prayer, reminding everyone of the powerful works of Jesus, God’s Holy child: “By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.” (Acts 4:30)
The third instance follows shortly thereafter: Peter had rebuked two members of the young Church, Ananias and Sapphira, condemning them for lying to the Apostle (and the Holy Spirit) about the price they received for the property they sold on behalf of the community (at which time they immediately dropped dead from his pronouncement). We learn of the fear and amazement of the Church. Luke tells us, “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch).” (Acts 5:12)
Then we shift to the acts of Paul. In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas were the subject of controversy between the Jews and Gentiles there. Luke tells us that they were accomplishing great things despite the disputes that had arisen.
Long time therefore abode they, speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3)
In the same manner, Paul references signs and wonders he performed which attested to his credentials as an Apostle. In Romans 15:19, Paul relates that, “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the importance of the Gospel, made surer by the teachings of those that heard Jesus. He says:
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:3-4)
SUMMARY: THE VARIOUS TYPES OF SIGNS AND WONDERS
The Bible employs the catchphrase signs and wonders in three different languages and in several different contexts, meaning many distinctive things. In some cases, natural phenomenon comprise examples of signs and wonders, the rainbow being the most noteworthy mentioned, which also served as a sign of a covenant. In other cases, a covenant sign consisted in the human act of circumcision. Both are seen as tokens, or owths in the Hebrew.
In stark contrast, there are many other cases of signs and wonders that testify to supernatural actions performed by God. In Egypt the signs and wonders were intended to make Pharaoh ‘awestruck’—so much so that Pharaoh would let the Hebrew people go, initially to worship Yahweh in the wilderness, but eventually to let them go entirely back to their land in Canaan. However, just as Donald Rumsfeld’s bombing program (which he termed ‘shock and awe’) failed to frighten Saddam Hussein into submission in the decade now past, shock and awe failed to achieve the desired outcome in ancient Egypt. Pharaoh simply hardened his heart. No doubt Saddam did the very same thing.
Signs and wonders certainly included Moses’ parting of the Red Sea (although that miracle has been explained away by naturalists for at least two centuries), and the subsequent drowning of the armies of Pharaoh when the waters that had been held back to allow the Hebrews to pass through, were released by Yahweh. Then the waves came crashing down on the Egyptian Chariots and their most unfortunate drivers, ensuring the ‘resurrection’ of the Hebrew people who had walked through the dry land of the Red Sea (also a mighty miracle, as not only did the waves part, but the seabed was turned into a dry road for the Hebrews to follow).
Then the Hebrew people were guided by the mighty pillars of smoke and fire. It was certainly hard to miss those constant companions. Of course, we recall that Moses had witnessed the burning bush much earlier. That too was a sign and wonder although, like the writing of the Ten Commandments by the finger of God, it was not something that anyone other than Moses experienced firsthand.
However, the entire throng, several million strong, were held in shock and awe by the voice of God, sounding as a trumpet, when his voice shook the earth from the Holy Mount, Mount Sinai. We learn in the story how God descended like a burning cloud upon the mountaintop. God told Moses to set markers around the mountain to keep the people back lest they should come upon the mountain and be killed. Many other signs would Moses work as he brought the people through their 40 year wilderness journey, whether it was the provision of manna, the ‘gift’ of the quail to provide a bit of variety to their diet (and to soften their complaints), or the sudden gushing of water provided by God when Moses struck the rock with his famous rod (or his brother Aaron’s—the rod that budded and was placed in the Ark of the Covenant.
Jeremiah and Isaiah recounted these great signs and wonders. Then as well as now for orthodox Jews, these actions on the part of Yahweh demonstrated the covenant between Him and His people. Daniel the Beloved (as he is known among orthodox Jews—they do not consider him a prophet—intriguing since Jesus said he was the greatest prophet!) caused kings whom he served to recognize the many signs and wonders of the Hebrew God. Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘instant insanity’ was a sign (his lycanthropy) and that he was delivered just as Daniel had prophesied after precisely seven years. The fact that Daniel predicted exactly what would happen and events came to pass exactly as he had said, was proof enough to Nebuchadnezzar that he had most certainly better ‘straighten up and fly right’ (another modern catchphrase made famous by singer Nat King Cole of course!) Likewise, when Darius learned that God had miraculously spoiled the lion’s appetite to feast on Hebrew prophets (apparently, they much preferred despicable Medes and Persians), he was genuinely awestruck and sent a letter worldwide (at least to the ends of his empire), testifying to the greatness of Daniel’s God.
As we move to the New Testament, of course Jesus performed many signs and wonders that the Apostles recounted (and as recorded in the Book of Acts). These signs could be healings, raising the dead back to life), demonstrating his mastery over nature (good examples would be stretching just how far a few loaves and fishes could be made to go; and of course there was that walking on water). John in his gospel uses the word ‘signs’ and points out that even the skeptical among the Hebrews were impressed by the amazing works that Jesus did. As Nicodemus said, perhaps not being entirely sincere: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles (sēmeion)that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2) And of course, as will discuss in the next chapter, signs by themselves are not always convincing, specifically to those that demand a sign before they are willing to believe.
Finally, the Apostles worked signs and wonders too, testifying to the power of God, and confirming their credentials as those ‘sent’ by God (which is what the word apostle conveys). The signs and wonders attested to the message of the gospel and played no small part in convincing the word that Jesus Christ (and His mighty apostles) were the ‘real deal.’
Signs and wonders seem to do that—at least for those whose hearts have been prepared by His Spirit to see them in all their splendor.
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This article was drawn from the new book, Blood Moon: Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse by Doug Woodward. Click here for information about the book and to purchase it from Amazon.
NOTES “Old English að “oath, judicial swearing, solemn appeal to deity in witness of truth or a promise,” from Proto-Germanic *aithaz (cognates: Old Norse eiðr, Swedish ed, Old Saxon, Old Frisian eth, Middle Dutch eet, Dutch eed, German eid, Gothic aiþs “oath”), from PIE *oi-to- “an oath” (cognates: Old Irish oeth “oath”). See http://etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=oath&searchmode=none.  Pronounced mo-fāth, as in “Give me mo’ faith Lord.” No doubt biblical wonders did give their observers much more faith. But to be precise, I do not propose any etymology to this colloquial phrase!  In this experience, most scholars see Nebuchadnezzar exhibiting the traits of the Antichrist and the seven years, the seven years of tribulation. As I have discussed elsewhere, there exists an intriguing connection between the wolf and the antichrist. Lycos was associated with Apollo. Hitler was known as Grey Wolf.