JAWBONE/CHEEK: Lekhi… (Strong’s 3895)
Sounds like: l’khee
The word lekhi is usually translated as either jaw or cheek. It generally refers to the area on the face that is visible as the cheek, supported by the jawbone. The name of that area in Hebrew had one designation: lekhi.
Lekhi showed up in the erotic poetry of Song of Songs:
[Groom:] “Your cheeks [l’kha’ya’yik] are delightful with jewelry, your neck with strings of beads.”
Later the Bride described the groom’s cheeks:
[Bride:] “His cheeks [l’kha’yaw] are like a bed of balsam, banks of herbal spices; his lips are lilies dripping with drops of myrrh.”
It’s not surprising that cheeks showed up in Hebrew poetry. Cheeks are sweet. They highlight our smiles. They are susceptible to the wind, the heat, the cold. They are accessible for kisses, and on the flip side, they are unprotected from slaps. Cheeks/jaws are almost always exposed, making them vulnerable to good cuddles and bad punches.
The poem of lament described cheeks as the landing place for tears:
How lonely sits the city [Jerusalem] that once had many people! She has become like a widow who was once great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces has become a forced labourer! She weeps bitterly in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks [lekheyah]; she has no one to comfort her among all her lovers. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.
Those vulnerable cheeks hosted tears. Jerusalem was decimated, the Temple had fallen, and the people were dragged out of their homeland and into hostile territory. Their cheeks were wet with grief.
A Hook in the Jaw/Cheek
Cheeks were vulnerable spots for animals as well. In fishing, a hook to the jaw gave humans the upper hand. YHWH asked Job if he thought a hook through the jaw of Leviathan would give him control:
[YHWH:] “Can you drag out Leviathan with a fishhook, and press down his tongue with a rope?
Can you put a rope in his nose, and pierce his jaw/cheek [lekheyow] with a hook?”
Humans don’t really have the control they think they do. In fact, YHWH turned the tables and announced that He would put the hook in the jaws of humans, in this case, the Egyptians:
Ezekiel 29:3-4, 6 (see also Ezekiel 38:4)
[YHWH to Ezekiel:] Speak and say, ‘This is what the Lord YHWH says:
“Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great monster that lies in the midst of his canals, that has said, ‘My Nile is mine, and I myself have made it.’
I will put hooks in your jaws [bi-l’khai’yeka] and make the fish of your canals cling to your scales. And I will bring you up out of the midst of your canals, and all the fish of your canals will cling to your scales…
…Then all the inhabitants of Egypt will know that I am YHWH, because they have been only a staff made of reed to the house of Israel.”
Like a hook in the jaw for the fish, a bridle through the jaw of cattle also indicated control. This concept was expressed in the scroll of Isaiah, and it highlighted YHWH’s plan to take control of the bridle which had led the people astray:
His breath is like an overflowing river, which reaches to the neck, to shake the nations back and forth in a sieve, and to put in the jaws [al l’khaiyey] of the peoples the bridle which leads astray.
YHWH’s plan was never to lead them with forced control, instead he wanted to lift the bridle from the jaws of His people so they could freely follow Him:
[YHWH:] When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.
The more they called them, the more they went away from them; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols.
Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I pulled them along with cords of a man, with ropes of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws [l’kheyhem]; and I bent down and fed them.
Samson Destroyed Jaw-Town with a Jaw-Bone
The writers of the Hebrew scriptures frequently used word play. In the story of Samson the judge, we read how he fought in a town called Lekhi (literally, Jaw-town) with a donkey jaw [lekhi] as a weapon:
Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi [Lekhi]. So the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?”
And they said, “We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.”
Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?”
And he said to them, “Just as they did to me, so I have done to them.”
Then they said to him, “We have come down to bind you so that we may hand you over to the Philistines.”
And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me.”
So they said to him, “No, but we will bind you tightly and give you into their hands; but we certainly will not kill you.” Then they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.
When he came to Lekhi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of YHWH rushed upon him so that the ropes that were on his arms were like flax that has burned with fire, and his restraints dropped from his hands. Then he found a fresh jawbone [l’khi] of a donkey, so he reached out with his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.
And Samson said,
“With the jawbone [bi-l’khi] of a donkey, heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone [bi-l’khi] of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.”
When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone [ha-l’khi] from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lekhi [meaning ‘height of a jawbone’]. Then he became very thirsty, and he called to YHWH and said, “You have handed this great victory over to Your servant, and now am I to die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”
But God split the hollow place that is in Lekhi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore, he named it En-hakkore [meaning ‘spring of the one calling’], which is in Lekhi to this day. So he judged Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
This was one of those fast paced exciting stories in the Bible. The Philistines invaded a town in Judah called Lekhi. It was literally “Jaw-town”. In order to maintain peace, the people of Judah offered to hand Samson over to the Philistines. Samson agreed to be bound, as long as they did not kill him, and so he was brought to the Philistines in Lekhi. But, upon his arrival, the Spirit of YHWH released the ropes and Samson picked up an old jawbone of a deceased donkey and slaughtered the Philistines.
After this great one-man/one-jawbone battle, Samson was thirsty, so YHWH made water come out of the hollow place of Cheek/Jaw-town. If you think about it, it was like spitting (water coming out of the cheek). It was a playful image… almost ‘cheeky’ you could say!! (Yes, that pun was intended!).
This story is a great example of how much we miss by not reading the Bible in the original language. It would have jumped out to any Hebrew reader that Samson cleverly used a jaw-bone to defeat jaw-town, but as English readers we miss this entirely.
Turning the other Cheek
Probably the most famous use of cheek/jaw in the Bible was the concept of turning the other cheek. This was what Yeshua (Jesus) said the best way to live out your life:
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you. Whoever hits you on the cheek [Greek: siagona], offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”
Was this idea of pacifism something that Yeshua just made up out of His own volition? On the contrary, the image of being slapped on the cheek, and not retaliating, was to be found all through the Hebrew scriptures:
[Job:] “They [the enemies] have gaped at me with their mouths, they have slapped me on the cheek [l’khayay] with contempt; they have massed themselves against me.”
Job suffered, perhaps more than anyone in the Bible. But he was not alone. The prophet Micaiah prophesied the death of king Ahab and the downfall of his army at the battle of Ramoth-Gilead. After he made this startling announcement, Micaiah was hit on the cheek by Ahab’s prophet Zedekiah:
1 Kings 22:24-25 (see also 2 Chronicles 18:23)
Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah approached and struck Micaiah on the cheek [ha-lekhi]; and he said, “How did the Spirit of YHWH pass from me to speak to you?”
And Micaiah said, “Behold, you are going to see how on that day when you go from one inner room to another trying to hide yourself.”
After this Micaiah was arrested and imprisoned. He did not fight back.
Being on the weak end of a fight seemed like a common position for YHWH’s followers. When the Hebrew people lost the battle to Babylon Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. From that disaster came the poem of lament, attributed to Jeremiah. The poet encouraged the people to passively wait for YHWH to rescue them. Instead of fighting back, the poem spoke of giving access to the cheek to those who aimed to strike them:
YHWH is good to those who await Him, to the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of YHWH. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep quiet, since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust; perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek [lekhi] to the one who is going to strike him; let him be filled with shame. For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion in proportion to His abundant mercy.
Jeremiah was not alone in sharing the message of pacifism. Below we read what has been identified as the third Suffering Servant poem, found in the book of Isaiah. In the poem the Servant offered his back to be hit, his cheek to be abused, and his face to be spit upon and mocked:
I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks [u-l’khayai] to those who pull out My beard; I did not hide My face from insults and spitting.
For the Lord YHWH helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have made My face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.
The Suffering Servant trusted YHWH to help him carry the shame, and he put on a persona of stone to bear the insults. He turned His cheek and bore the pain, much like Yeshua (Jesus) did on His journey to the cross.
YHWH’s followers were never meant to strike back. They were to hand over retribution to YHWH alone:
Arise, YHWH; save me, my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheek [lekhi]; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to YHWH; may Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah
YHWH had a plan to save, all along! God’s people would be attacked on the cheek, but He would send a ruler, a Shepherd, to lead His people back to completion (peace). This One would re-open the Gates of Eden so that we could, once again, walk in the Presence of YHWH:
“Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; they have laid siege against us; with a rod they will strike the judge of Israel on the cheek [ha-l’khi].
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His times of coming forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth. Then the remainder of His kinsmen will return to the sons of Israel.
And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of YHWH, in the majesty of the name of YHWH His God.
And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.
Yeshua came and destroyed the Enemy in the most unexpected way. He laid His life down in order to raise us up. He taught us that that was what true living was… putting others first:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I all you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.”
Turning the other cheek was part of the Salvation plan. God’s plan for human redemption would not be born out of violence, but out of love, mercy, humility, and compassion. Yeshua would fall under the weight of human violence, only to rise up, conquer death, and bring us home.
Turning the other cheek is what we are to do as followers of Yeshua. Militant armies on religious crusades are as far from Yeshua’s teachings as possible. Violence is not the way. Let us instead imitate our Saviour, with love, mercy, humility, and compassion. We can lay down our lives, but lift up our voices and be God’s Image bearers of true peace. Shalom!
Next week: Brightness/Radiance