October 16, 2013

Learning God's language

When people of a foreign culture are chatting in their language, I often wish that I knew that language and could chat with them.

At times I feel like that when I’m reading the Bible. What did the person who wrote this passage mean? Why did he choose this word or that phrase? What was he trying to say to the people who first read this? Does their situation have anything to do with his choices? And what does it mean in today’s world? How can it be practical for me?

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)

Reading this verse again today, I stopped at the word “grievous” and remembered that the King James Version uses the word “wicked.” What does that word mean?

Just as it is written here, it makes sense to ask God to reveal sinful attitudes of my heart. I can excuse my sin or be blind to it. He alone can expose what is going on, and He alone can forgive and cleanse sin. 

However, I also know that Bible translators are extremely careful to study the context of any words for it has a great deal to do with the original author’s intention. I wanted to explore the Hebrew roots of this word. I discovered that the exact same word occurs in only four places, here and three times in proverbs. The verses seem to use it to convey various thoughts rather than a common thread.

The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. (Proverbs 10:22)
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. (Proverbs 14:23)
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

With my Bible software, checked similar words and found that this one is connected to the curse that fell on the earth because of sin. That is, the pain of childbirth and the difficulty of earning a living are related to this word. In other places, some of those “relatives” are translated as: painful, hurtful, wicked, offensive, pain as a consequence of sin and the worship of false gods.

From those word uses, I am struck by the idea conveyed; God wants to lead me out of all things that are a result of the Fall. He wants me to walk a different way, the way of everlasting life, not the way of whatever is painful, wicked, offensive, or grief-causing because of sin. While this could mean sin in a broad sense and include the sin of others, the prayer of Psalm 139 is not asking God to search their hearts, but mine. This is about my own sin. In other words, God wants me to enjoy a grievous-free life, not one of suffering all the time because of my sinful ways.

I’m also struck by the inclusion of false gods. This is the breaking of the first commandment, both the one in the Old Testament and the one that Jesus gave in the New Testament as the greatest command, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Last week, the speaker at the Living Generously seminar talked about the “it’s mine” areas of life and called them our “second kingdom.” He said that all our stress comes from second kingdom stuff. Those things that are not yielded to God and not entrusted to His care always produce stress in our lives.

As I think through some examples, I can see that most of these could also fit into the category of false gods. Anything that I trust in place of God is a false god. It could be an ideology. It could be money. It could be my own ideas and abilities. Whatever it is, stress is also there . . .  and from what I’m reading today, so is grief and sorrow.

The bottom line is the same as it always is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5–8)

Do what God says, for He wants the best for His people. It is for this reason that the psalmist asked God to search his heart. He knew that God wanted the best for him and that the stuff of sin and sorrow only produced pain and grief. Instead, he wanted to be healed and refreshed. So do I, so do I.

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