Hebrew “Grind” Discussion Continued

Some time ago R.J. Walker disagreed with what I said were three examples of “grind” used as a sexual metaphor in the Hebrew scriptures (Job 31:9-10; Judges 16:20-21; Lamentations 5:13). I want to apologize for not responding sooner. (If you are new to this topic, “grind” is used as a metaphor for a lesbian relationship in Luke 17:35) R.J. wrote:

Job 31:9-10

“If my heart hath been enticed unto a woman, 
And I have lurked at my neighbor’s door;
Then let my wife grind unto another,
And let others bow down upon her. (Job 31:9-10)

If “grind” were intended to be slang for sex, then the second clause in 31:10 would be superfluous. I do not think this is an example of repetition or echoing to emphasize a point, I think it is an example of two different activities demonstration the loss or rupture of the relationship.”

Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry

The important thing to remember about Job is a prime example of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme as in traditional English poetry. Instead, Hebrew poetry is based on parallelism, most typically parallel ideas. Here are some examples from other Hebrew poetical books Hebrew parallelism.

Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, 
you his servants who do his will. 
Praise the LORD, all his works 
 everywhere in his dominion.  (Psalm 103:21-22)

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.  (Proverbs 18:4)

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, 
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.  (Ecclesiastes 3:16)

Hebrew parallelism is quite flexible in its forms, including things like contrastive parallelism. And the parallel idea you suggest is a legitimate interpretation. One important thing to note, however, is that the word “grain” is not in the original Hebrew of verse 10, so in this case the KJV is closer to a literal rendering.  The repetition is neither superfluous nor for emphasis; the use of two sexual metaphors is simply characteristic of poetic parallelism.

May my wife grind for another,
And let others kneel down over her. (31:10)

(See Wilson, RashkowRodd, Meyers, Craven & Kraemer, and Brenner)

Judges 16:20-21

R. J. then discussed Samson grinding in prison.

“Next, Judges 16:20-21

And she said, The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his
sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free. But he
knew not that Jehovah was departed from him.

And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought
him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the
prison-house. (ASV)

Yes, it could be in use here as sexual innuendo, but it seems equally plausible to me that it is simply being used as metaphor to show how his strength has been drastically diminished, that he is reduced to doing a “woman’s” work: like saying ‘and he was forced to pee sitting down.'”

I need to point out again that “grind” is not accompanied by a word like “mill,” or “grain,”and I believe this ambiguity is intentional for the sake of tender young ears and fastidious Hebrew scribes.  And I need to reiterate that the Talmud interprets this passage sexually. The testimony of the Talmud is not conclusive, but can’t be entirely ignored, especially given the theme of Samson’s sexual prowess.

(See Niditch, Day, and Shoulson)

Lamentations 5:13

“Re: Lamentations 5:13

To me, to argue that the line that “young men toil at the millstones” is a sexual euphemism is beyond even a long stretch. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I believe that the fact that a word could be used as sexual innuendo is
insufficient to establish in any case that is being so used.”

As in the other verses I’ve cited, no words like “mill,” “corn,” or “wheat” appear in the Hebrew original.

For understandable reasons, wartime rape of men and boys is an unpleasant topic, something not commonly talked about, although it is discussed in the history of warfare. The wartime rape of women is much more familiar to us.

Lamentations 5:11 describes the double rape of women and virgins by the foreign army. Two verses later ( 5:13) we read of another double rape, this time of males.

They ravished the women in Zion,
and the virgins in the cities of Judah.

They took the young men to grind,
and young boys staggered under the wood. (5:13)

If all we had was the isolated fragment of 5:13, there would be less reason to notice the possible sexual content. But considering the abundant documentation of male-on-male rape in wartime, and the fact that women are raped in a couplet only two verses prior, interpreting these as sexual metaphors is not a long stretch at all.

The book of Lamentations records horrific things in the capital city of Jerusalem under seige: women and girls are raped, mothers boil their children for food to eat. It seems to me that the phenomenon of young boys being “reduced to women’s work” (which is the spin numerous commentators put on this verse) seems completely inadequate to me.

It is also important to note that Lamentations is, like many of the prophetic books, written in Hebrew poetry. Thus, it is similar to the poetic parallelism we found in Job 31.

No, I am convinced that “grind” is a common sexual metaphor in ancient Hebrew. I must add something to that, however. Even if the word “grind” were not a Hebrew verb for copulate (which I do believe it is), the Greek word in Luke 17:35, with its provenance of the Isle of Lesbos, remains for the Lukan passage under discussion.

(Contemporary Wartime Male Rape: Donnan & Magowan, Archer & Lloyd, Scarce, and Shigematsu & Camacho)

(Ancient Wartime Male Rape: Goldstein, Carden, Gelb & Palley, Petrak & Hedge)

(Wartime Child Rape: Horvitz & Catherwood, Hyder, Parrot & Cummings, Sheldon)

[To read the entire series on “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse,” the gays and lesbians in Luke, and the sexual use of the word “grind” in the Bible, click here.]


About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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2 Responses to Hebrew “Grind” Discussion Continued

  1. Doug Asbury says:

    The idea that passages such as the latter part of Lamentations 5.13 are to be interpreted only as referring to boys being “reduced to women’s work” completely ignores the phraseology of Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13, that calls an “abomination” lying “with a male as with a woman.” This makes it even clearer that these two passages are proscribing same-sex sexual abuse, not same-sex activity that involves loving partners.


  2. Ron Goetz says:

    “How dare you crush my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?”demands the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (Isaiah 3:15)

    As you can see, the word “crush” actually was used as a metaphor for oppression, so it isn’t necessary to speculate that it could be. It’s just a case of looking for the Biblical evidence.

    So to, it wasn’t necessary for me to merely speculate that the “two men in one bed” could be gay, hoping it might be true. It was a case of looking for the Biblical evidence, which I found. Standard Operating Procedure: hypothesis comes first, then evidence gathering.

    The evidence I uncovered was the typical evidence used in Bible interpretation: 1) O.T. antecedents, 2) linguistic evidence, 3) cultural evidence, 4) comparative synoptic evidence, and 5) critical evidence.

    I agree that the Spirit of God leads us into all truth, and that it isn’t necessary to proof text every one of our actions and beliefs. We’d be in very bad shape if an academic degree were required to read and understand the Bible. Having said that, there are people who need Biblical confirmation for a belief that challenges that collection of proof texts that seems to condemn homosexual believers, the Clobber Passages. And it is not uncommon for gay and lesbian believers to harbor doubts about their acceptability to God because of the apparent lack of Biblical acceptance for homosexuals.


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