by Al Maxey
Issue #846 -- June 16, 2022
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear; the
upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
James Montgomery [1771-1854]
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known to most of us as Mark Twain, astutely observed, "The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." It is in these rightly timed pauses that our "non-verbals" may very well "speak" the loudest to those around us. Much can be conveyed, for example, in "body language." Research has shown that one's emotional intent, i.e. what one is feeling within his/her heart and mind, generally shows up first in our body: our facial expressions (smiles, frowns, sneers, and raised eyebrows), the rolling of our eyes, the tilt of our head, how we comport our limbs, etc. Emotional intent is further effectively conveyed in one's groans, moans, tears, snorts, and sighs. Much can be said without saying anything at all, as was powerfully proclaimed by the look Jesus gave Peter after the latter's denial (Luke 22:61). In previous issues of my Reflections I have sought to reveal how Jesus utilized various non-verbals to convey His innermost feelings to those around Him. Consider the following: "The Tears of Jesus: A Reflective Analysis" (Reflections #279) and "Did Jesus Snort Like A Horse? Reflecting on a Powerful Greek Word as it Relates to the Attitude of Jesus in Two Synoptic Healing Accounts" (Reflections #611). We even find our Savior spitting on occasion, sometimes actually in the face of another person, an unusual non-verbal phenomenon discussed in my article titled "Spittle Smearing Savior: Why Did Jesus the Messiah Spit?" (Reflections #844).
In this current article, however, I want us to examine another non-verbal expression utilized by Jesus: His deep, heavy sighs. There are only two places in the New Testament writings that speak of Jesus sighing, and both are found in the gospel record of Mark. The first is found in the story of Jesus healing a man who was deaf and afflicted with a speech impediment (Mark 7:31-37). This was one of the three accounts of Jesus spitting that I featured in my article "Spittle Smearing Savior." In addition to spitting, Jesus also sighed: "Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly" (Mark 7:34-35, NKJV). The other mention of Jesus sighing is located in the very next chapter where we find the Pharisees disputing with Him, and testing Him, and demanding that He perform some sign (Mark 8:11). "But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, 'Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation'" (Mark 8:12, NKJV). I have dealt with this story of our Lord's encounter with the Pharisees, although somewhat in passing, in my article titled "Yeast from the Beast: The Leavening Power of Sectarianism" (Reflections #141). Therefore, for the background of the two sighing occurrences of Jesus, I would refer the reader to these two previous articles. In our present study we will narrow our focus to the implications of the sigh itself.
Before doing so, however, it might be useful to say something about the physiology and psychology of sighing. What is it, and why do we do it? Everyone sighs; we all do it, so this is an experience with which you are very familiar. Indeed, each of us sighs a great many times during the day, and we are very likely unaware of the majority of them. Dr. Vikram Kumar, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, writes, "A sigh is your body pressing its temporary reset button, restoring a healthy respiratory pattern" [Sigh Language, published in Forbes India, January 9, 2012]. He continues, "Physiologically, we sigh when our breathing doesn't vary enough, or when our breathing becomes too irregular," which leads to "the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs progressively collapsing and our lungs becoming stiff. A sigh opens up the alveoli to restore in the lung the ability to expand fully on inspiration," which restores a more healthy respiratory rhythm [ibid]. Psychologically, it is a relief mechanism the human body triggers when experiencing stress, frustration, or any number of other negative situations, circumstances, and emotions. "A sigh is a deep inhalation and exhalation that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to take the body into a state of relaxation. It causes blood pressure to drop and heart rate to slow down" [ibid]. Dr. Jordan Lewis, of the Penn State College of Medicine, in an article that appeared in Psychology Today, cited and concurred with the findings of Dr. Kumar, and then noted (based on research done) that "in general, sighs are associated with a negative mood: it is a sign of disappointment, defeat, frustration, boredom, and longing. ... The researchers also observed that people tend to be sighing from negative feelings ten times more often than for positive reasons." In other words, sighing is a physiological response to stress triggers that can result in a sense of relief both physically and emotionally. Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word "sigh" this way: "to take in and let out a long, deep, audible breath, especially in expressing sorrow, relief, fatigue, longing, etc."
In the New Covenant sacred writings, the Greek word for "sighing" is "stenazo," which also may mean "to groan." In Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words [p. 1378] it is defined: "to sigh, groan; to express grief by inarticulate or semi-articulate sounds; an inward, unexpressed feeling of sorrow." One can't help but think of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who speaks of "Sorrow, and her family of Sighs" in the work titled "Adonais." Drs. Arndt and Gingrich suggest that we sigh or groan "because of an undesirable circumstance" that we may be experiencing [A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 766]. In the massive ten volume work titled Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, this Greek scholar writes, "In particular, sighing expresses deep distress of the spirit" [vol. 7, p. 600]. This word appears only six times in the NT writings, and is only used once with reference to Jesus (Mark 7:34). The other five occurrences (in which it is rendered "groan" in most translations) are: Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 5:2, 4; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:9. An intensified form of this word is "anastenazo," which is a Greek compound created by prefixing the preposition "ana" to the above mentioned verb. This refers to a "deep, heavy sigh." "It is perfective in function, and it intensifies the meaning already existent in the verb" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 160]. This intensified form appears only one time in the New Covenant writings - Mark 8:12 (although it can be found in Lamentations 1:4 in the LXX), which is the second passage in Mark's gospel record that informs us Jesus sighed, although on this second occasion He sighed "deeply in His spirit."
Sigh #1 - Mark 7:34
In the region of Decapolis near the Sea of Galilee, a man was brought to Jesus "who was deaf and spoke with difficulty" (Mark 7:32). Jesus took this man aside, away from the crowd, and He stuck His fingers into the ears of this man, "and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva" that He had just spit out. Jesus then looked up to the sky (or "up to heaven") and He sighed, after which He uttered the word "Ephphatha," which Mark tells us meant "be opened" (vs. 34). And thus the man was healed. But, why did Jesus sigh? There are a great many theories as to why Jesus sighed here. Some scholars, by reviewing the previous chapters in Mark describing how busy Jesus had been, suggest it was simply a sigh of physical and mental exhaustion. Jesus was worn out! Dr. Kenneth Wuest wrote, "One can understand the exhausting nature of the healing ministry," which caused "a great mental strain" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 154]. Other scholars believe the Lord's sigh simply manifests a caring, compassionate spirit when confronted with the sufferings of those around Him. "This sigh attested that the human sympathies of the Savior were co-extensive with human suffering and sorrow" [The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, e-Sword]. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 4:15, NIV). This was evidenced here, as well as by the tears He shed for those who grieved over the death of Lazarus. John informs us that Jesus was "deeply moved in spirit" over their grief (John 11:33, 38), and that "Jesus wept" (vs. 35).
Mark was good at conveying within his written gospel account the various human emotions of Jesus. "The frequency with which this evangelist records our Lord's emotions on the sight of sin and sorrow has been often noticed" by biblical scholars [Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, e-Sword]. "All these instances of true human feeling ... are very precious as aids in realizing His perfect manhood" [ibid]. When one loves as deeply as Jesus loved, one will be moved to weep when they weep, and to rejoice when they rejoice; love connects our hearts with others, and we feel with them in their various circumstances, both positive and negative. I believe our Lord's sigh here displayed that deep connection with the plight of others. Not all would agree with this, however. Matthew Henry, for example, feels Jesus sighed because He realized that once this man was healed, he would then, having his speech restored, "be in danger of the many tongue-sins which he was free from before" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Matthew Henry even went so far as to suggest this man would be better off if he remained "tongue-tied still," rather than healed and unable to bridle his tongue [ibid]. Adam Clarke is of the opinion that the sigh came from this afflicted man rather than from Jesus. "He sighed/groaned, being distressed because of his present affliction, and thus implored relief: for, not being able to speak, he could only groan/sigh, expressing in this way his afflicted state and his desire to be relieved. Then Jesus, having compassion upon him, said, 'Be opened'" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 313]. A couple of interesting speculations, to be sure, but very few scholars agree with Henry and Clarke on this.
Sigh #2 - Mark 8:12
The sigh of Jesus in Mark 8, however, differs greatly from the sigh in Mark 7. Here (in Mark 8:11f) Jesus is confronted by the unbelieving, disrespectful Pharisees, who "came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him" (vs. 11). "The obstinacy and hardness of heart which these enemies exhibited hurt Him deeply. ... The wickedness and hypocrisy of their questioning of Him affected the Lord very deeply, and He fetched a deep sigh in His spirit" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 207]. The text literally reads: "sighing deeply in His spirit" (Mark 8:12, NASB). This is the use of the intensified form of the word that was found in Mark 7:34. It is a word, as noted above, that appears only here in all the NT writings. It was a deep-seated sigh or groan. "This is the only instance of this compound in the NT. The sigh seemed to come, as we say, from the bottom of His heart; the Lord's spirit was stirred to its depths. Jesus resented the settled prejudice of the Pharisees against Him and His work" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. "The Savior sighed in the previous chapter over physical need; here He sighs over moral obtuseness. The language is very strong, and it gives us a glimpse into the Redeemer's heart" [Dr. F. B. Meyer, Through the Bible Day-by-Day, e-Sword]. "The attack, and the unbelief it showed, distressed Jesus. He was amazed at the unbelief and audacity of these religious leaders" [Dr. David Guzik, Enduring Word Commentary, e-Sword].
Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown point out that "the language here is very strong. These glimpses into the interior of the Redeemer's heart, in which our Evangelist (Mark) abounds, are more precious than rubies. The state of the Pharisaic heart, which prompted this desire for a fresh sign, went to His very soul" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 967]. Jesus "sighed deeply in His spirit." "The word 'spirit' here is taken as the seat of the emotions, passions, affections. He drew groans deeply from His breast" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "It describes Jesus' grief and disappointment when faced with the unbelief of those who, because of their spiritual privileges, ought to have been more responsive to Him" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 688]. "They who came, came to carp and criticize" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 341]. Thus, "Jesus groaned because of the apostate rejection of His ministry. Here was no simple, hard-hearted rejection as from an ordinary sinner. Rather, this rejection came from the religious leaders of Israel, who, entrenched in their ecclesiasticism, later crucified the Lord of Glory" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, p. 160].
A Concluding Thought
I truly appreciate the fact that in a great many places within the Scriptures we find powerful insights into the human emotions of Jesus. Too often we see Him as only deity, and that is truly only a part of who and what He was/is. Some might consider it almost blasphemous to "lower" Jesus to "our level," yet this is a reality He Himself chose to embrace. "Although Christ Jesus existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7). In a very real sense Jesus was one of us!! He sighed, groaned, snorted, wept, and yes He even got angry. He can relate to our "inner man," for He lived it. This makes Him the perfect advocate for us with the Father. How wonderful that He who wept and sighed will one day usher us into that realm where all weeping and sighing will be no more! "The ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away" (Isaiah 35:10). Lord, hasten that day!
From a Reader in Indiana:
Al, would you please send me the following CDs: "The Debates of Al Maxey," containing all seven of your written debates, and "The Nature of Man and his Eternal Destiny." I have enclosed a check for these two studies. Thanks!
From a Minister in Puerto Rico:
Al, I have been looking online for anything you have done on the book of Revelation. I came across your two CD set titled "The Book of Revelation: An In-Depth Reflective Study" and would like to purchase that set (if you could send it to me on a thumb drive). I am sending you the funds for that study via PayPal. I am close to beginning a series on the book of Revelation here in Puerto Rico, and I would love to get your perspective. I appreciate your help more than you know!
I also sent this reader the link to my study titled "Jesus Evaluates His Church," which is an in-depth examination of the historical background and theological message of the Lord to the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3. NOTE: Sending my materials on a thumb drive instead of on CDs is being requested more and more by those who want to obtain my various studies offered on my web site, and I don't mind using that medium at all (in fact, it is far easier than making and mailing CDs). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Florida:
I would be most appreciative if you would email me the essay written by Dwight Anthony Hernandez titled "What Actually Happened on that First Pentecost After Christ's Ascension?" Bro. Maxey, you can't imagine how much I benefit from your vast library of Reflections. Thank you so much!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Brother Al, I wanted to write to tell you that I appreciate your help years ago, via your Reflections, which led me out of legalism! Thank you!! I hope you are doing well.
From a Reader in Wyoming:
Thanks, Al, for your article "Walk in a Manner Worthy: A Reflective Study of Ephesians 4:1" (Reflections #845) - GREAT read and insight. Also, would you please email me the article by Dwight Hernandez that you mentioned in your last Reflections. Thanks!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Al, I just finished reading your article on how we need to be walking in a worthy manner. Great job! I would also enjoy reading the article by Dwight Hernandez concerning Pentecost. Would you please send me that article?
From a Retired Military Chaplain in Indiana:
I'm praying for safe vacation travels for you and Shelly, brother. Enjoy the time away! Also, I just want to say that Reflections #845 is an absolute masterpiece. Beautiful. From the Abe Lincoln quote at the top through to the Addendum! Amen, and AMEN! Lovely! Al, one more thing: would you please send me a copy of Dwight Hernandez's article? Thanks.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, I loved your article "Walk in a Manner Worthy" (although I'm a bit late in reading it and writing to you about it). I find myself going back to Micah 6 when considering what God desires of us in our walk. I like verse 8, obviously, but I have to remember that the prophet offers "perfect worship" before answering the question of what our God is looking for in our lives, and I do not believe that changes for us today. The NLT says, "do what is right," and we know "right" is loving God and our neighbors, which Jesus talked about. Paul helps us with what "right" looks like also. Next, the prophet tells us to "love mercy." I wonder at the impact of this concept if we as Christians would actually do it. Loving mercy seems to be the ultimate act of love from God to us, and He asks that we share that with the world. The impact of us walking in mercy surely would smooth some of our rough edges when we seem to desire mercy for ourselves but justice for others. Finally, "walking humbly" means that we really understand that we are walking with the eternal, almighty Creator of the universe who wants a relationship with us. Can we believe it? Shouldn't that make us humble, especially when we're on a warpath about something we think is important? We want others to pay for their sins because they are bad ... and we're not?! I like to think that is where Paul is coming from when he says, "walk worthy of your calling." Our calling is to reflect God into the world, and we need to remember it's all about Him and not us, and that seems to be a problem for most of us. We love you and your ministry, Al. All the best to the family!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have a thought that I would like to share with you. Someone commented about the question, "What would you do if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live?" by saying, "Well, Jesus washed feet." That is so thought-provoking! We should all reflect on that! God willing, brother, one day I hope to meet you in person!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, I appreciate your Reflections articles so much! Blessings to you for a long and continued amazing life of sharing God's Word with others. Also, thank you for sharing the Dwight Hernandez article. Isn't it a shame that people like myself have not been taught that the Holy Spirit is real?!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, thank you for your work over these many years! I have been reading your writings since 2006.
From a Reader in Canada:
Al, your article "Walk in a Manner Worthy" is a home run. You hit it out of the ballpark!! Thank you so much for all you do for all of us in your well-thought-out and well-researched articles. May our God and Father Yehovah keep you and bless you in all you do for Him.
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, as always, I really appreciate your writings because they force me to think and rethink what I've sometimes accepted without thinking. Your web site, with your wonderfully indexed materials, is very useful, as are each of the new articles you produce for us! Thank you!
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