June 1, 2013

Rock of Ages, cleft for me…

My name is a derivative of Elizabeth which is Elisabet in Greek and Elisheva in Hebrew. That biblical name means “my God is an oath” or “my God is abundance.” I’ve also read that it means “consecrated to God” which is a blessing to me. As a derivative, my name comes from that name and meaning, and I’m glad for it.

Names were very important in Bible times. They indicated the character and life direction parents wanted for their child. New Testament apostle Peter began with the name “Simon” but he didn’t keep that name.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42)

Curious, I looked up these three names in an online name dictionary. Simon means, “he has heard” which does describe Peter. It took time for him to learn how to act on what Jesus told him, but he did listen to God and eventually became the person described by the other two names. Cephas is Aramaic for "rock or stone," and Peter is a Greek word that means the same thing. The one who heard became a rock!

Is this coincidence? My studies have shown me otherwise. For instance, many literary devices are used in Scripture. For instance, the story of Joseph in Genesis is constructed in chiasms, a word not found in many dictionaries. It is an X –shaped structure where the beginning and ending of a story or poetry use the same thoughts, even the same words. They could be diagrammed like this: A, B, C, D, E, D, C, B, A. The pivot point is always key information in the story.

One of these chiasms starts in Genesis 43:26 with “Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt from Canaan and bow to Joseph” then ends with 50:18 where “Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt from Canaan and bow to Joseph.” The “B” sections are about Joseph weeping over his father in 46:29 and 50:1. The C sections include “the order of the first born” and so on.

The author who recorded Genesis may have chosen this literary device, but because the entire Bible is filled with them, it could be that they appear because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the writers. That is, God who is a God of order, structure and beauty, influenced even this as the Scriptures were written.
Going back to the names of Peter, they do tell a story. Peter did hear Jesus. He was up and down in his understanding of what he heard, and also up and down in his obedience, but he did become a rock, a pillar in the early church.

His story also reminds me of another story Jesus told about hearing and obeying. From it, I get the impression that our God loves using words and uses them to repeat certain themes and images…

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24–27) (italics, underlining is mine)

Even more word play is used to describe that Jesus Himself is the Word of God, the one who “spoke” the universe into existence, and the One who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” He also listened to and obeyed His Father. God is called the Rock of ages, a Rock of refuge, and the One who hides us in the cleft of that Rock.

While these word plays may seem inconsequential to some, I find them wonderfully descriptive of a God who cares about both beauty and details. My faith is given a boost because Jesus changed Peter’s life and because of the way He uses words to change my life. As the psalmist says,

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. (Psalm 62:6)

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