Putting the Twig to the Nose

When my daughter Lindsay, home for the Thanksgiving break, asked me a question the other day, at first I wondered what they were teaching her at college. "Dad, what does 'putting the twig to the nose' mean?" she asked.

Then she told me she was reading Ezekiel for her Bible class, where the angel of God points out in Ezekiel 8:17 that men in Judah were guilty of "putting the twig to their nose." Considered the family's resident Bible expert, I enjoy it when my children ask me questions. Yet I had to admit to being a bit baffled by the expression, as I had not thought about it before. As our family happened to be traveling at the time, we discussed the context a bit, I told her it sounded like a pagan ritual to me, and then promised to look it up later.

What I found was interesting and (not surprising with the Word of God) fear-producing.

This verse with its expression is from a scene where the angel of God is showing the prophet why destruction is about to come upon Jerusalem. In the vision Ezekiel is shown 25 men worshiping in the courtyard of the temple. The problem is, however, that they are prostrated with their backs against the temple, praying to the sun in the east (Ezekiel 8:16). The angel then says,

"Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to the nose. Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath."
My research showed that my hunch was right. Often found in pagan worship was the practice of gathering a branch or bundle of twigs and then the worshiper would put them before his face near the mouth and nose as he prostrated himself and prayed to his idol. For these Jews worshiping the sun, it could have served as a type of veil to show respect to the sun-god, and it may have been a symbol of their recognition that life was dependent upon the light of the sun.

However, there is a powerful double entendre in this expression that only the Hebrew reveals. The word for "nose" in the Hebrew (אַף -"aph") can also be translated as "anger" or "ruin." The snort of emotion from the nose and the flaring of the nostrils provide the reason for this association. Sometimes scholars in different English versions can translate a verse using these two different meanings with the same effect, as in Job 4:9.

  • "By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of His nostrils they are consumed" (KJV).
  • "By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end" (NASB).With this in mind, John Calvin said that by God describing them as putting the twig to the nose, they were in effect putting the twig to their ruin. In other words, by putting the twig to their nose, they were putting the twig to His nose. They were arousing His burning anger, which is why He follows this expression with these words, "Therefore, I will indeed deal in wrath."

How careful we must live! These Jews who thought they were being trendy by using a worldly worship practice were in reality putting more wood on the fire of God's anger by the very act. As Paul said in Romans 2:5, "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

Perhaps from this we could develop a new proverbial warning when we see a believer pursuing evil things or churches turning their back on God's Word as they embrace worldly goods? "Don't put the twig to your nose!"

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness.

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