Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Yahweh's view of what is "better," or why poverty isn't necessarily evil

Proverbs 17:1 caught my attention this morning: “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife.”

I wondered how many times Proverbs says X is better than Y, so I did a quick search on "better is" and "is better." Here's what I found:

Prov. 3:14 -- wisdom's profit is better than silver or gold
Prov. 8:11 -- wisdom is better than jewels
Prov. 8:19 -- wisdom's fruit is better than pure gold or choicest silver
Prov. 12:9  -- lowly with a servant is better than self-honoring without a servant
Prov. 15:16 -- little + fear of Yahweh is better than wealth with turmoil
Prov. 15:17 -- vegetables + love is better than fatted ox + hatred
Prov. 16:8 -- little + righteousness is better than great income with injustice
Prov. 16:19 -- lowly with the poor is better than dividing spoil with the proud
Prov. 16:32 -- slow to anger is better than the mighty
Prov. 17:1 -- a dry morsel + quiet is better than feasting with strife
Prov. 19:1 -- being poor + integrity is better than perverse in speech and a fool
Prov. 19:22 -- being poor is better than being a liar
Prov. 21:9 -- corner of a roof is better than a big house with quarrelsome wife
Prov. 21:19 -- live in a desert is better than with contentious and angry wife
Prov. 22:1 -- good name/favor is better than great riches/silver and gold
Prov. 25:7 -- humble > elevated is better than proud > demoted
Prov. 25:24 -- corner of a roof is better than house with quarrelsome wife
Prov. 27:5 -- open rebuke is better than secret love
Prov. 27:10 -- neighbor near is better than brother far away (in calamity)
Prov. 28:6 -- poor + integrity is better than rich + crooked

All the “better” sayings in Proverbs reflect a value system, Yahweh’s value system.Yahweh values wisdom and its fruit, fearing him, love, righteousness, humility, self-control, peace and quiet, integrity, honesty, and a good name. Yahweh values reality over appearance.

A key point is that having these things often comes at the cost of material wealth (Prov. 16:8, 19; 19:1, 22; 22:1; 28:6). Further, if one must make a choice between wealth, silver, gold, jewels, spoil, great income, or feasts without what Yahweh’s values and poverty with what Yahweh’s values, the better choice is poverty.


These passages argue that poverty is not an evil. It may be a good. It may be much better than wealth. Poverty is merely a financial circumstance. What truly matters is the character and choices of the one who is in that circumstance.

This is one good reason among others not to be a "war on poverty" advocate.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Morning Reflection on Proverbs 5

This chapter illustrates how wisdom lives in the present with the future in mind. The consequences of a present course of action are always considered before embarking.

When I consider the personal, family, and spiritual destruction that follows those who heed the strange woman’s honeyed and oiled words (Pro. 5:3), I flee like I would flee the plague (cf. 2 Tim. 2:22).

Prov. 5:4 -- "sharp as a two-edged sword" is the strange woman -- to lick her honeyed words is to head down the path of suicide.

Trappers in Alaska's past occasionally discovered their lines raided by wolves. To rid themselves of the thieves, they would dip a sharp, double-edged knife in honey, allowing several layers to freeze onto it. Then they planted the knife, blade up in the snow near a trap the wolves have raided. The smell of the honey attracts the wolves who begin to lick it off the blade. As a wolf licks the frozen honey, the cold  numbs their tongue. By the time they have licked the honey clean, their tongue is numbed to the razor edge that cuts their tongue. Now they taste blood, and lick with greater frenzy, not realizing they are licking their own blood. Eventually they lick themselves to death.

Father, help me and help my sons to acknowledge that we are susceptible to her alluring charms, and so fortify our souls with your wisdom, retain the prudence that comes from you, and remember the folly and doom of accepting her invitation.

Guard us from proud self-confidence that dabbles on the edge of danger for the thrills of risk. Grant me grace daily to model for my sons abhorrence of all sexual infidelity both internal and external.

Father, help us not to linger in considering the her beauty (Prov. 6:25). That she has it is not to be denied. Seeing it cannot be avoided it. But seeing, help us to instantly recognize it for what it is--the honey masking a double-edged knife which the enemy of our soul desires to use to destroy us (Prov. 5:5, 14).



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reflections from ETS 2014: Rejuvenation and Renovation

ETS is the Evangelical Theological Society. This year the annual meeting was in San Diego, CA. The weather was delightful, the meeting much more so.

I go to ETS to get mentally rejuvenated -- hear papers on cutting edge research, see the latest books from conservative publishers, meet scholars whose names and works I've read, reconnect with friends from scholarly community. 

I also go to ETS to be humbled. Being a prof at a small school makes it relatively easy to lose sight of how much I don't know. 

Wow, my ignorance is profound! It's good for me, and it's good for my students that I be reminded of how much there is to know, and how little of it that I know.

The most humbling aspect of this year's conference came during breakfast with Dad. He was commenting on Christ's condescension, his kenosis (self-emptying / self-humbling; Phil. 2:5-8). I felt almost physically punched as I contemplated the Omniscient One, the Source and Sustainer of all reality and thus of all truth, becoming ... what? a scholar, with academic recognition and lots of publications? a sage whose profound wisdom was sought out by the elite of his day? Hardly. No, not a scholar, not a sage. A servant. A menial laborer most of whose earthly life was lived in obscurity.

He was so unremarkable a person that when he came home to Nazareth and preached his Isa. 61 sermon (Luke 4), they were incredulous and then offended. “Who does he think he is?! He's just the son of Joseph. We know his mother, brothers, and sisters. He's nothing special! Certainly not the Lord's ‘Anointed!’”

ETS is a place where desire for academic prestige and recognition can be awakened and fostered. It's not that the "have's" flout it. It's just that the "have's" have it and the "have not's" don't. If you get my drift.

Jesus calls us to follow him in self-sacrificial obedience, daily cross-bearing, lowly service in the place of his choosing. All that we are is by God's grace. A truism. Yet, it is equally true that all God has not chosen for us flows from His goodness and grace. 

Like James and John, who set their eyes on things far beyond them (Mark 10:35-40), Jesus would say to us, "Be satisfied with my goodness and wisdom in where I place you and where I don't." 

I would reply, by His grace, "Thank you, Jesus. Not what I wish to be, or where I wish to go ... the Lord shall choose for me, 'tis better far I know. Continue Your work of renovation!"

Monday, November 10, 2014

Women, Adorn Yourselves with "Sobriety" -- New Insight on 1 Tim. 2:9

In 1 Tim. 2:9, Paul says believing women are to adorn themselves with sophrosunes (σωφροσύνης).

The KJV reads:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety (sophrosunes); not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

About a year ago, I decided that I needed to get a better handle on how sophrosunes was used. When I began my investigation, I was startled by what I found.

Comparison of English Versions
A comparison of major English translations reveals a surprising lack of consensus about the meaning of sophrosunes:

KJV:       sobriety
ASV:      sobriety
NASB:    discreetly
LEB:       self-control
ESV:       self-control
HCSB:    good sense
NIV:        propriety
NLT:        decent (?)
RSV:       sensibly
NRSV:    decently
CEB:       sensible
NET:       self-control

Several things stood out to me about this data:
  1. the NASB is alone in translating it “discreetly”
  2. self-control (ESV, LEB, NET) and sensible (RSV, CEB, HCSB) are the front runners,
  3. decent (NRSV, NLT) and sobriety (KJV, ASV) trail next.
The word sophrosunes itself, occurs only 3x in the NT: Acts 26:25 (where it means reasonable) and twice in Paul: 1 Tim. 2:9, 15. It does not occur in the canonical LXX.

Significant Uses of Sophrosunes Outside of Scripture

Since sophrosunes occurs so infrequently in Scripture, I needed to look outside of the NT for help in discovering its meaning.

4 Maccabees has an extended discussion of reason and its relation to sophrosunes. The following statements are striking in providing a perspective on this word:
  • 4 Maccabees 1:3 “... reason rules over those emotions that hinder sophrosunes, namely, gluttony and lust,... ”
  • 4 Maccabees 1:30 “For reason is the guide of the virtues, ... rational judgment is sovereign over the emotions by virtue of the restraining power of sophrosunes.”
  • 4 Maccabees 1:31 “sophrosunes then, is dominance over the desires.”
  • 4 Maccabees 5:23 “[our philosophy] teaches us sophrosunes, so that we master all pleasures and desires,...”
Other extra-biblical authors use sophrosunes in similar ways. For example, Plato describes it in these ways:
  • sophrosunes ... consists in not being excited by the passions and in being superior to them and acting in a seemly way …” (Phaedo 68c).
  • sophrosunes is a kind of beautiful order and a continence of certain pleasures and appetites, as they say, using the phrase ‘master of himself’...” (Republic 430e)
  • “We all agree that sophrosunes is a control of pleasures and desires ...” (Symposium 196c).
Josephus uses this term in his version of the Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar story. He ascribes Joseph’s refusals of Potiphar’s wife’s attempts to seduce Joseph to his sophrosunes (Ant. 2.48). Potiphar, on the other hand, mistakenly believes his wife to be “a woman of a becoming modesty and sophrosunes” (κοσμιότητα καὶ σωφροσύνην αὐτῇ; Ant. 2.59).

In telling the story of Balaam, Josephus says that Balaak sent out his prettiest women whose beauty was most likely to conquer the sophrosunes of those who behold them (Ant. 4.129).

Similar uses of sophrosunes may be found in the apocryphal Testament of Joseph, 4:1, 2; 6:7; 9:2, 3; 10:2, 3; as well as Jos., Ant. 18:66 and Philo, Sac., 1:25-26.

Tentative Conclusion

Based on the foregoing study, it appears that Paul was calling Christian women to beautify themselves with a self-control that refuses gluttony and lust (4 Macc 1:3), masters the passions, pleasures, and desires (4 Macc 5:23), and produces chastity (Jos., Ant. 2:48, 2:59), prudence (Jos, Ant. 11:217; 12:198; 17:247), and appropriate behavior (Plat., Phaedo 68c).

Now there's a gem whose beauty outshines any external adornment! I suspect that Paul, under inspiration, forbids women to adorn themselves with extravagant hairstyles, gold, pearls, and expensive clothing precisely because such things mitigate against the cultivation and expression of the inward beauty of sophrosunes.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Fig Tree that Withered Immediately & Scriptural Inerrancy - Part 2

Although I'm committed to the theological, epistemological, and hermeneutical assumptions I shared in my previous post, I'll admit that I really prefer a linguistically satisfactory resolution to apparent discrepancies.

My student wasn't satisfied with Carson's EBC explanation of how the Matthew and Mark versions of the triumphal entry relate to one another.

He wrote back:
I don't think [Carson's] rationalization of Matthew and Mark's distinctions is acceptable ... The crux of the matter is ... that Matthew clearly portrays the scene as one where Jesus curses the tree, it withers away instantly, and the disciples are shocked by how soon it withered- a single event that occurs after the turning over of the tables, whereas Mark says Jesus cursed it before He threw over the tables, then after he overthrows the tables and spends the night in Bethany upon returning from Bethany, Peter says in a way that implies time has passed since the cursing, that the tree is now withered.

I could understand if Matthew had put it in a topical order but did not use the term, "immediately" and put the disciples directly afterward saying, "how soon," but he didn't. ... How much leniency should we grant them in order to make both stories perfectly true and harmonious? Is it okay to imply something that is not the way it happened?

To be honest, I wasn't entirely satisfied with Carson's explanation either. Especially, in light of the fact that every other English version translates the word παραχρῆμα (parachrema) in Matthew 21:19-20 as “at once” (NASB, ESV, NET, LEB, HCSB, CEB), “presently” (KJV),  or “immediately” (CJB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NAB).

When I looked up the other occurrences of παραχρῆμα in the NT, they all appeared to mean "immediately" or "instantly" (cf. Lk. 1:64; 4:39; 5:25; 8:44, 47, 55; 13:13; 18:43; 19:11; 22:60; Acts 3:7; 5:10; 12:23; 13:11; 16:26, 33).

So I did some research that was quite enlightening to me. Here's part of what I wrote back to the student:

 ****
1. You have correctly noted that Matthew's "at once" (παραχρῆμα; 21:19) and disciple's comment about "how soon" (παραχρῆμα; 21:20) the fig tree withered present the key difficulty in this passage.

2. Given your understanding that παραχρῆμα means "immediately" or "instantly," it certainly seems to be a direct contradiction of Mark's account that the tree withered over a day and a night.

Now, it appears to me from your emails (correct me if I'm wrong) that you moved from your empirical observations regarding Matthew and Mark's texts to conclusions regarding the nature of inspiration and its entailments.

In other words, your methodology for building your understanding of the doctrine of inspiration has been based upon inductive logic: gather the facts, draw the conclusions. Since you could not reconcile the apparent contradiction in the facts that you gathered, you concluded that divine inspiration must not extend to matters of historical record.

A Partial Word Study of παραχρῆμα
Now, let's turn our attention to the word παραχρῆμα. Here is the data I have found:
1. When I looked up the word in the Greek lexicons, I found the following:
  • BDAG defined it as "pert. to a point of time that is immediately subsequent to an action, at once, immediately."
  • Friberg offers: "immediately, at once, without delay "
  • Louw-Nida offer: "suddenly; pertaining to an extremely short period of time between a previous state or event and a subsequent state or event - 'suddenly, at once, immediately' (in a number of contexts there is the implication of unexpectedness, but this seems to be a derivative of the context as a whole and not a part of the meaning of the lexical items)."
  • Thayer offers: "(properly, equivalent to para, to, crh/ma; cf. our on the spot), from Herodotus down; immediately, forthwith, instantly"
All the lexicons provide support for the understanding you had of the word παραχρῆμα. I have learned, however, that lexicons are often incomplete in their survey of the data.

As I looked at BDAG in particular, which is the most current NT lexicon, I noticed that there was very little Koine literature cited besides the NT.  That is a good indication that BDAG did not adequately do their homework.

So, I turned to the LXX and Josephus. The LXX is the most influential Greek literature on the NT's language, and Josephus is contemporary with the 1st century and provides an important window into how Greek was used at that time.

Here's what I find:
  •      2 Macc. 7:3 The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. 4 These were heated παραχρῆμα, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on.
Assuming that a fire was already present, pans and caldrons are not heated instantaneously, but take a relatively short amount of time.
  •     2 Macc. 10:22 Then he slew these men who had turned traitor, and παραχρῆμα captured the two towers.  23 Having success at arms in everything he undertook, he destroyed more than twenty thousand in the two strongholds.

No matter how quickly one takes two towers, one does not do it instantaneously. The point seems to be that it they were taken rapidly.
  •     Bel 1:42 And he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den the men who had attempted his destruction, and they were devoured παραχρῆμα before his eyes.
Again, however quickly the men were devoured, they were not devoured instantaneously.

In Josephus we find the following:
  •     Antiquities of the Jews 1:193 And Abram inquiring also concerning Ishmael, whether he should live or not, God signified to him that he should live to be very old, and should be the father of great nations. Abram, therefore, gave thanks to God for these blessings; and then he, and all his family, and his son Ishmael, were circumcised παραχρῆμα, the son being that day thirteen years of age, and he ninety-nine.

According to Josephus, Abram had 318 servants with whom he overcame the army that took Lot. 318+ people are not circumcised either instantly or particularly quickly, but "without delay" or "straightway" would be fine English glosses.

  •     Antiquities of the Jews 4:274 ``If anyone find gold or silver on the road, let him inquire after him that lost it, and make proclamation of the place where he found it, and then restore it to him again, as not thinking it right to make his own profit by the loss of another. And the same rule is to be observed in cattle found to have wandered away into a lonely place. If the owner be not παραχρῆμα discovered, let him that is the finder keep it with himself, and appeal to God that he has not taken what belongs to another.''
Here we have a potentially extended period of time (likely from several hours to a day or two) during which the owner of lost cattle is searched for.
  •     Antiquities of the Jews 5:155-156 When it was related to the Israelites what the inhabitants of Gibeah had resolved upon, they took their oath that no one of them would give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite, but make war with greater fury against them than we have learned our forefathers made war against the Canaanites; and sent out παραχρῆμα an army of four hundred thousand men against them, while the Benjamites' army was twenty-five thousand and six hundred; five hundred of whom were excellent at slinging stones with their left hands,
Nobody gathers an army of 400,000 men instantaneously, but it can be done quickly rather than slowly, "without delay" rather than otherwise. Judges 20:12-17 makes is clear that the 400,000 man army that was sent out παραχρῆμα involved a somewhat extended period of time, even though it was done without delays.

The result of this brief and limited lexical survey of the uses of παραχρῆμα in the LXX and Josephus does two things for me:
  1. It confirms (again) my belief that while checking lexicons is an important step in exegesis; it is no substitute for actually examining the data for oneself.
  2. It shows that while the sense of παραχρῆμα is something like "straight away" or "quickly," the nature of the quickness is a function of the action and actors involved.The amount of time that passes during the period that is called παραχρῆμα can vary from less than a second to hours to days. In other words, παραχρῆμα is a relative term not an absolute term.
As a result of this study, it is now easy to understand that Matthew could use the word παραχρῆμα to describe the rapid withering of the fig tree, without intending to indicate that it was immediate or instantaneous. Any tree that withers from the roots up within 24 hours has withered in an astonishingly short amount of time. That is all that Matthew's language necessarily conveys.

Again, Matthew has here, as at other times throughout his gospel, chosen to arrange his material thematically/topically to make a theological point. This practice was widely used in ANE and Greco-Roman literature and involved no deception or misleading of the audience.

*****

I came away from my research greatly encouraged! Although I know cases where I am yet unable to provide a completely satisfactory resolution to an apparent discrepancy, when all the facts are in I have not doubt that both the explicit statements of Scripture regarding its trustworthiness and their necessary theological implications (e.g., inerrancy) will be proven 100% correct in all cases.

A couple lessons this exercises has renewed in my mind:
1. I should not pass over difficulties without careful examination just because I am committed to Scripture's doctrine of its own truthfulness and trustworthiness. Often times the answers to vexing difficulties are available. They just need to be uncovered.
2. Finite minds are capable of drawing logically valid inferences from a limited data set which are wrong. Just because I or others can't provide a resolution doesn't mean there isn't one.
3. Presuppositional hermeneutical humility and empirical scholarly rigor, when operating in concert, are never enemies of the truth. When relied upon singly, they promote either indolence or arrogance.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Fig Tree that Withered Immediately & Scriptural Inerrancy - Part 1

I recently received an email from a student that went something like this:

Dear Sir,
I believe that the Scriptures are the divine inspired Word of God, but I also believe that because men were used to convey this Word, rather than God writing it Himself, it stands to reason that due to man's imperfect nature, there are some slight inconsistencies that however do not deter from the main themes and teachings and intents of the stories.
Specifically, Matthew and Mark's accounts of the triumphal entry don't agree. Matthew has Jesus curse the fig tree, which withers at once, and then go into the temple and cleanse it (Mat. 21). Mark has Jesus curse the fig tree, go cleanse the temple, and return the next day to find the tree withered (Mk 11). They can't both be right.
 Would you agree with me that this is a historical error?
My first thought was to show why the narratives are compatible and harmonious. My second thought was that I need to address the underlying assumptions this student is bringing to this discussion. I went with my second thought first.

Here's part of what I wrote:

****

A Scripture-believer should bring the following assumptions to any discussion of apparent Scriptural discrepancies:

Theological Assumptions

If God says that Scripture represents what He intended to communicate (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16), then Scripture cannot contain errors, because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) or err (Psa. 18:30).

God’s use of imperfect men would necessitate that Scripture be flawed if and only if humans are unable to communicate a message without error. Normal human experience demonstrates that humans are capable of communicating a message without error. Therefore, it is not a logical necessity or even a logical probability that a divine message communicated by humans will contain error. (For an excellent essay on the relationship of the human and divine in Scripture, see this piece by Kevin Bauder.)
 
The inerrancy of Scripture is not only a logical entailment of God’s nature, it is the implicit affirmation of God Himself in the person of the Son. Jesus states that we should believe “all” that the prophets wrote (Luke 24:25). Remember, Moses was a prophet (Deut. 34:10; Acts 7:37). Jesus also said that Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). Contextually, Jesus was speaking of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet it is in the OT, not the Synoptics, that some of the the most vexing issues of harmonization appear.

Epistemological Assumptions

We have undeniable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for our acceptance of His claims—to be the Christ, to be God, to be the Savior of the World. As One who spoke only the words that the Father taught Him, Jesus’ words have the authority of omniscience behind them. Once we accept Jesus’ authority as the Son of God, we have no legitimate basis for questioning the truthfulness of His claims.

In other words, our inability to see how certain details of Scripture can be harmonized internally or with external data cannot be a basis for rejecting them. To do so is to implicitly assert that we know enough to know that Jesus was wrong about the trustworthiness of Scripture. What our inability should teach us is that we are finite being with limited knowledge.

Ultimately, we have to ask, “Who is the ultimate arbiter of truth: our minds or God? Should finite, fallible, fallen men claim the right to pronounce as errant what God Himself has said ought to be believed?” This is, of course, precisely what we are doing if we assert that Scripture asserts something that should not be believed.

Hermeneutical Assumptions

As a rule of thumb for interpreting any author, we assume coherence until we encounter antimony (a necessary logical contradiction). When we have reason to believe that an author is trustworthy, but we have found what appears to be a contradiction, we should always explore possible ways in which the contradiction may be harmonized.

When God is the superintending agent in the production of what He calls "my word" (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Isa. 55:11, contradiction is not possible. Thus when I encounter an apparent contradiction in Scripture, I always assume that I am missing some key piece of data that, if I had it, would resolve the contradiction.
In the case you raised, a key problem is your assumption that both Matthew and Mark intended to present a chronological narrative. It is legitimate to assume an author is being chronological, but once there are deviations from chronology into topical or other sorts of arrangements, we must consider those options as well.

Implications for our Method of Understanding the Entailments of Inspiration

In summary, what I have just given are theological, epistemological, and hermeneutical reasons why I believe an inductive approach to understanding the entailments of inspiration is inadequate and should be rejected:
  1. We are limited in knowledge. This means that we can easily draw conclusions that appear to be valid but that are actually incorrect because we don't have all the data.
  2. Because we are limited in knowledge, our understanding of a doctrine which Scripture speaks to directly should be deductive not inductive. God cannot lie. God has spoken Scripture; therefore, Scripture cannot be false.
  3. We accept the necessarily implications of Scripture's claims on the basis of the authority of Jesus who told us to believe it (Luke 24:25).
  4. When we cannot reconcile those implications with our observations, we do not trust our minds, but God's Son who has authoritatively pronounced Scripture to be unbreakable (John 10:35). This does not mean that we do not do all we can to investigate empirically. But at the end of the day what should determine our beliefs is not our ability to explain everything, but our confidence that God's word is perfect because the omniscient, resurrected Son of God told us to believe it.
I believe D. A. Carson's comments on this issue are satisfactory:
“This story is found only here and in Mark, where it is split into two parts (11:12–14, 20–26), with the temple’s cleansing in between. Chronologically, Mark is more detailed. If the triumphal entry was on Sunday, then, according to Mark, the cursing of the fig tree was on Monday, and the disciples’ surprise at the tree’s quick withering, along with Jesus’ words about faith, were on Tuesday. Matthew has simply put the two parts together in a typical topical arrangement. He leaves indistinct (v. 20) the time when the disciples saw the withered fig tree, though he implies it was the same day. Compare the condensation in [Matthew] 9:18–25” (Carson, Matthew, EBC-rev).
A harmonization of Matthew's topical account and Mark's chronological account could look like this.

****

My student wasn't convinced that Carson's comments were satisfactory ... finished in my next post.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Morning Reflections on Prov. 29:1

Proverbs 29:1 אִ֣ישׁ תּ֭וֹכָחוֹת מַקְשֶׁה־עֹ֑רֶף פֶּ֥תַע יִ֜שָּׁבֵ֗ר וְאֵ֣ין מַרְפֵּֽא׃

NASB Proverbs 29:1 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.

Yahweh, there is a limit to your patience with refusals to respond to correction (cf. Exo 33:3). I praise you that it is “much reproof” (אִיש תּוֹכָחוֹת) (cf. 2 Kgs. 17:14). You are slow to anger and plenteous in kindness, yet your justice sets a limit on your longsuffering.

Thank you that you warn me of the sober consequences to motivate me to turn at reproof. Those who stiffen their necks are arrogant and disobedient (Neh 9:16), refuse to listen to You and are rebellious (Neh. 9:17; Deut. 31:27). Your dealings with Israel, whom you exiled and dispersed because of their stiffnecked rebellion against you, teach me what “broken beyond remedy” looks like (2 Kgs 17:18; Jer. 19:15).

Thank you for giving me by your Spirit a heart of flesh for my heart of stone (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). Thank you for your reproof that sets me in the right way when I stray (2 Tim. 3:16;) and which you design to make me a sharer in your holiness (Heb 12:5-10)!

Hard hearts (2 Chron. 36:13), bronze foreheads (Isa. 48:4), and stubborn shoulders (Neh. 9:29) are the accompanying characteristics of a stiff neck. Yielding ourselves (תְּנוּ־יָד לַיהוָה) to You, Yahweh (2 Chron. 30:8), listening and inclining the ear (Jer. 17:23) are the opposites of being stiffnecked.

Deut. 10:16 prescribes circumcising the foreskin of the heart in conjunction with or perhaps as a condition for no longer stiffening one's neck. Yahweh, you have provided in Christ a heart-circumcision that is made without hands (Col. 2:11). Thank you for circumcising my heart that it may be sensitive to You.

If there yet lingers stiffness of neck in me, show me it that I may yield it to You. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prov. 25:13 and Psalm 19:7 -- The Torah of Yahweh is perfect, refreshing the soul

Back in 2010, the language of Proverbs 25:13 caught my attention during my devotions:

Proverbs 25:13 כְּצִנַּת־שֶׁ֙לֶג׀ בְּי֬וֹם קָצִ֗יר צִ֣יר נֶ֭אֱמָן לְשֹׁלְחָ֑יו וְנֶ֖פֶשׁ אֲדֹנָ֣יו יָשִֽׁיב׃ פ

NAU  Proverbs 25:13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters.

What struck me about this verse is the hiphil form of shub ("refreshes") with (nephesh soul). This is the same form that shows up in Psalm 19:7[H=19:8] “The torah of Yahweh is perfect, meshibat the soul.”  

A quick search on the hiphil form of shub with nephesh shows that if this construction occurs with the preposition "from" (min) it means "to restore from, rescue from" (Job 33:30; Psa 35:17). 

Without the preposition "from" this construction  has the sense of ‘restore, refresh,” and may involve emotional, bodily, or spiritual refreshment.  

Emotional refreshment is most clearly seen in Lam. 1:14 “Because far from me is a comforter, One who restores my soul.” The parallelism with ‘comforter,’ and the context of emotional anguish make clear that emotional restoration is in view. 

Physical refreshment is the focus in Lam. 1:19 where people seek meat/food to restore their souls. 

I’m inclined to read Prov. 25:13 as mental/ psychological refreshment. The confidence and sense of well-being that results from being able to trust a messenger can be “whole person” refreshment though it stems initially from the mind. Since nephesh may denote the “whole person,” it may also stand by metonymy for any part of the totality. Thus the spiritual dimension of the person may be in view as well.

Back to Psalm 19:7 -- the KJV reads "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." I had always understood this in reference to spiritual conversion or salvation. The NASB reads, "The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul." That didn't give me a much different idea. But reading Psa. 19:7 in Hebrew in the light of Prov. 25:13 was quite different: "The torah of Yahweh is perfect, refreshing the soul" -- just like the cold of snow in the time of harvest.

Does Yahweh's torah really refresh the soul? I began to wonder. At first, I was skeptical because after teaching Bible or theology courses all day, I was not inclined to seek mental refreshment in the evenings by reading Scripture again. In fact, just the thought of it made me tired.

However, I decided to do some experimenting. So, when I found myself tired in the evening, I would occasionally get out the Bible, read a psalm, or listen to Scripture online. I was surprised to find that my spirit seemed to be quickly calmed and refreshed -- much more than when I read some other book or watched something for entertainment.

That was four years ago. My experimentation was sporadic, but with increasing conviction that God's word really did have a soul-refreshing capacity. During those years, I read George MacDonald's Sir Gibbie, and was struck by the way in which he portrayed the farmer's wife who, high up the mountain, could usually be found with her large Bible in her lap, delighting in reading God's word.

I have made this a matter of prayer -- asking God to increase my delight in His word (Jer. 15:16). I'm finding that nothing both refreshes and satisfies my soul quite like the torah of Yahweh. Of course, when David wrote Psa. 19, he had the first five books of Moses in mind. How's that for a different perspective? Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ... soul-refreshing!  

I'm still growing in this, but I believe God has been doing a work in my heart that fits it to find its true refreshment in what He designed to be its refresher -- His word.