In the late 1990’s when I was in seminary the phrase “You’re the man!” was very popular. One would say “You da man!” when someone figured something out how to do something that no one else could, completed a difficult task, etc. A few of us who were enrolled in a biblical language class at the time were delighted when we learned that our grammar textbook had taught us how to say the popular aphorism in ancient Hebrew. Here’s a transliteration: Ha ta ha-ish! (pronounced with an eesh! versus an ish). Our use of the phrase on campus, thanks to the grammar book, quickly became gender inclusive… ha ta ha-ish-ah = you are the woman!
The once common aphorism was (is) employed in a spirit somewhat contrary to that of its biblical origins. “You are the man!” is the phrase that the prophet Nathan uses to rebuke King David after, uh, his transgressions.
As the story goes, the prophet Nathan is sent to King David by the Lord. Nathan tells David a tale about two men in a certain town, one rich and one poor. The rich man has lots of cattle and sheep and the poor man has nothing but a ewe lamb he had bought and raised with his own children. The little lamb shared the family’s food, drank from their cup and even slept in the poor man’s arms… the ewe lamb was like a daughter to him. “Awe…” we think, with David.
Once the brief narrative has helped us to see the poor man as a good, loving man – despite his misfortune – the story takes a dastardly turn… “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
Upon hearing the tale’s selfish turn David is outraged. “David burned with anger against the (rich) man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
And this, folks, is when the aphorism was born. The prophet Nathan looks to King David and says… “Ha ta ha-ish… You are the man!” As the prophet fleshes out the truth of the story and David sees himself as the villain, he repents. But the story doesn’t end there – check it out for yourself by reading 2 Samuel 12. It won’t take long. Pay special attention to verse 26 and following.
Sometimes (most of the time?) the power of the bible lies as much in what it doesn’t say as in what it does. It’s a book that is (to use an aforementioned and often poorly employed word) full of awe. If you read 2 Samuel 12 my hunch is that you’ll be left wondering, and hoping, that nobody ever looks at you and declares you to be the man (or the woman). It will also leave you wondering why David, or any of us for that matter, can’t just quit while we are ahead… why despite it all, we still wanna be the man.